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OPN Connect Newsletter 327 · July 6, 2023

Co-op Partners Warehouse Sees Major Sales Increase, Plans for Further Growth


Co-op Partners Warehouse (CPW), a St. Paul, Minnesota-based wholesale distributor focused mainly on organic produce, has been undergoing a transformative, high-growth period over the last three years.

The shift is part of a decade-long strategic plan that was developed by its parent company, Twin Cities Co-op Partners (TCCP), in 2020.

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“The initial goal of TCCP was to grow CPW by 66 percent in 10 years—and that’s since changed to doubling our size in the next 5-7 years,” said Senior Director of Supply Chain James Collins, who joined TCCP in September 2020. “In order to do that, we’ve needed to build the infrastructure to support that kind of growth. We have focused on three main areas:  people, process, and systems—getting people in the right seats with the right training and expectations, identifying opportunities to change processes to better support growth, and adding proper systems and tools to support the team.”

James Collins, Senior Director of Supply Chain, Twin Cities Co-op Partners

Collins said over the last few years, there have been “significant changes” in CPW’s leadership team and personnel. He noted that three longtime, founding members of the company have retired, and 33 new people have been hired to support various departments, including supply chain/logistics, finance, sales, buying, warehouse management, quality assurance, and transportation.

Vitalis February 2024

Since the fall of 2020, Collins said CPW has seen a 35 percent increase in sales, which he attributes to a number of factors. For one thing, J&J Distributing/H. Brooks, a large produce distributor in the Twin Cities area, shut down, opening up new opportunities for CPW and the other remaining local distributors.

Organic garlic scapes, Harmony Valley Farm, Viroqua, WI

Collins said CPW has also been focused on adding new strategic grower partnerships to help better service its customers, the majority of which are retailers (88 percent of CPW’s sales are into retail).

Fox Packaging January February 2024

“With all the changes in our world (climate, COVID, etc.), we have had to expand and diversify some of our partnerships,” Collins said. “Before, we primarily bought produce from the West Coast and locally.  We now have partnerships and buy products from all over the country. Partners like Lady Moon, Soli, Federation of Southern Cooperatives, and Pleasant Valley Mushrooms are some of the newer partnerships we have made. These partnerships have allowed us to continue to have products available and to provide our customers with high-quality products during off seasons or when weather issues arise in other parts of the country.”

Ryne Case, CPW produce buyer

Collins noted that CPW’s direct partnership with Equal Exchange (EE), which was established in 2020 to distribute EE bananas and avocados, has made a meaningful contribution to the distributor’s sales increase. Specifically, the banana program—which included the addition of in-house ripening services—has accounted for 6 percent of CPW’s 35 percent sales growth.

Hiwassee February 2024

“With all the changes in our world (climate, COVID, etc.), we have had to expand and diversify some of our partnerships. Before, we primarily bought produce from the West Coast and locally. We now have partnerships and buy products from all over the country.” - James Collins

Collins said other factors influencing CPW’s sales success have included personnel additions, equipment upgrades, and a new fresh cuts brand (Twin Cities Roots and Fruits), as well as better pricing, promotional opportunities, and delivery options for its customers.

CPW is currently in the process of transitioning to a new operating system, which is slated to roll out later this summer. “When I arrived at CPW, I identified that our systems needed an upgrade,” Collins said. “We had a homegrown system that met some of our needs but not all of them. For instance, it did not have a warehouse management system, and as a result we pick orders off paper. It also did not coincide with the direction our IT department had gone.” 

Nels Phipps, CPW warehouse receiver

“After conducting our RFP looking at demos of lots of software, we landed on Prophet as our new ERP/WMS operating system,” Collins said. “It met many of the things we were looking for, and we felt that it was the best software to grow and scale with us as we grow.”

Looking ahead, Collins said CPW’s aim is to continue transitioning from a small to a mid-sized company. “Our future goal is to expand beyond the Upper Midwest area that we currently service. Most likely, this will mean future locations.”

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Organic corn, Featherstone Farm, Rushford, MN

However, Collins was careful to note that CPW’s expansion will not alter its focus on supporting small and mid-sized farms as well as co-ops and independent grocers. “CPW is a co-op and runs on cooperative principles,” he said. “Those principles include supporting and building community. By supporting small and mid-sized farms and makers, supporting local, and supporting co-ops and independents, we are supporting our community. As we move forward, our goal is to get the amazing foods that farmers and makers produce into as many hands as possible. As we grow, the goal is to create a network to help expand these products to new regions for more people to enjoy.”

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