The SunCoast Market Co-op is coming to Imperial Beach next year to provide healthy, locally sourced food for local communities and the U.S. Navy.
The journey to open SunCoast began in 2015 after president Kim Frink and vice president Shannon Ratliff rallied for Trader Joe’s, a national chain of neighborhood grocery stores, to come to Imperial Beach to aid in the lack of healthy grocery options.
Due to economic demographics not fitting their model, Trader Joe’s declined, so Frink, Ratliff and other investors decided to open their own co-op.
Now eight years later, not a day has gone by that the founders haven’t been working on getting SunCoast up and running.
The project will cost $3.8 million, with $2.5 million left to raise.
A Here Comes the Sun fundraising event, on March 16, at the Coronado Cays Yacht Club is projected to raise another $250,000 to create and equip the market’s new Silver Strand kitchen, organizers say.
As a grassroots effort with a business model that doesn’t meld to any singular mold, those involved in the development of SunCoast have trail blazed.
Developing business model
Before SunCoast even began seeking investors, the first two years were spent establishing the business model, writing bylaws and educating the community about the benefits of a Co-op model — a model extremely rare to San Diego.
SunCoast will be one of only two Co-ops in San Diego County, second only to Ocean Beach People’s Organic Food Co-op.
It also will be the first Co-op in the country to open in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, said Brooke Truesdale, fundraising chair of the Here Comes the Sun event.
“We’ve done a ton of outreach to make sure the communities that are going to use our co-op are represented,” Truesdale said.
This co-op is not only an anomaly for its structure and location, but it will also provide easy access to healthy food in an area saturated with fast food and convenience stores, organizers say.
Shopping outside neighborhood
Early on in their efforts, the board of volunteers provided a survey to the community to figure out where residents were grocery shopping.
Of the 400 who responded, 73% said they traveled outside of their neighborhood for groceries.
“Our community is so diverse that we’re really looking at creating a mix that meets the needs of Coronado, Imperial Beach, the Navy and the southern part of San Diego city,” Frink said. “We’re going to be 50% organic natural food and 50% conventional foods.”
With co-ops, the sourcing is unique in comparison to generic grocery stores. For instance, Frink said that a traditional grocery store may be 12% sourced with organic, natural food, compared to their store’s projected 50%.
SunCoast will partner with vendors from SunCoast Farmers Market in Imperial Beach.
What will the co-op model look like?
SunCoast has consisted of a working board of nine to 10 people throughout the many year process, in addition to a large network volunteers.
“It’s almost unheard of in a co-op world to have so many committed people throughout the process,” Ratliff said. “This is not normal in Southern California to have co-ops, so educating people on what it is, why it matters and why they should be involved, takes time and community outreach.”
Now that the years of education, background work and building trust within the community are over, the team has moved to the fundraising stage, which is no small undertaking.
Since the area is considered a food desert with the lack of healthy food options, volunteers have been working hard to raise funds through grants.
The goal is to open debt-free.
“We want to address the affordability of healthy food in our community because we do have a lot of working class families and military families,” said Frink. “If we open debt free, we can immediately incorporate programs to address the affordability issue.”
SunCoast started with zero shareholders back in the early stages, and has since increased to 1,059 shareholders, who purchased a share at $200 each.
The co-op will provide economic benefit through 30 new jobs and an annual projected $6.5 million economic impact for the regional economy, said Frink.
The profits get reinvested back into the community—partially to the shareholders as rebates determined by how much they shop and also back to local organizations.
With the goal to open the co-op in the first half of 2024, the Here Comes the Sun fundraising event will accelerate these efforts, organizers said.
Spearheading it is Bill Huck, a Coronado resident of 36 years and a Navy veteran.
“Now that I am semi-retired, my avocation is throwing parties, bringing events together and having fun,” said Huck. “We’re now two weeks away from tapping the first keg, opening the first bottle of wine and having a party.”
More than 100 people have signed up for the March 16 event, with the goal of having 250 people attend. It will have 13 chefs presenting local cuisine, a dance floor, bar and plenty of unique games designed by Huck.
The event will be complete with a giant “grazing table,” and an interactive experience with an in-depth look at what the co-op will be like.
There also will be a VIP section for those who donated more than $2,500,
To learn more about SunCoast Co-op visit https://suncoastmarket.coop/