Littleton Coop produce manager

Brian Labonte, the produce manager at Littleton Food Cooperative, displays bags of lettuce grown at Meadowstone Farm in Bethlehem.

LITTLETON — Having survived the lean, early years, the Littleton Food Coop Store is preparing to celebrate its 10th anniversary with a reputation for local produce and unique offerings and events, among them, a mid-summer shindig known as Lobsterpalooza.

The Littleton Coop, which has 6,800 members, began doing business on May 13, 2009. While it’s open to all, the coop offers monthly benefits for members, who also elect its board of directors and suggest what items should be carried.

From Thursday through Saturday, the coop will look back and forward with music, vendors, free samples, prizes, including a chance to win a $500 shopping spree.

While definitely the northernmost in New Hampshire, the Littleton Coop is one of several in the Granite State, including in Concord, Keene, Manchester, Lebanon and Hanover. The Hanover coop is among the oldest in the U.S, having opened in 1936.

Co-ops exist to serve members and the communities in which they are located, with profitability lower down on their priority lists than commercial supermarkets.

Nonetheless, the Littleton Co-op is making money, says Ed King, its general manager, athough it took five years to get there.

The closing in 2006 of one of the town’s two grocery stores led to conversations about launching a co-op, which happened three years later, King said.

Littleton Food Cooperative exterior

The Littleton Food Cooperative will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Saturday, May 11, 2019.

Unlike most co-ops, the Littleton one is a “hybrid,” King said, explaining that it offers both organic as well as conventional items that a shopper big-box supermarkets would immediately recognize.

At the Littleton Co-op, annual sales revenue rose from $5 million to $10 million between 2009-2014, and, following an expansion in 2017, to $13 million. When the co-op makes a profit, nearly all of it is returned to members, King said.

In addition to benefiting members, the co-op participates in programs to enhance the buying power of people who are participating in federal food-assistance programs.

Produce from 199 local suppliers – meaning that they are located within 100 miles of the co-op — makes up some 27 percent of the Littleton Co-op’s cumulative offerings.

In late July, when prices for the crustaceans reach seasonal lows, the co-op annually holds Lobsterpalooza, selling as many as 4,000 lobsters in one day, typically for about $4.99 a pound.

Folks plan their vacations and family get-togethers around Lobsterpalooza, said King, who, when asked, said the lobsters are considered local because they come from a producer in Maine that is 99.3 miles from the co-op.

Entering its second decade, King said the co-op is proud of what it has accomplished. He credited the co-op’s board of directors and its employees, as well as its members.

“We’ve got a great team here,” said King, noting that the co-op, which began with 42 employees, now has 100, evenly split between full- and part-time. Employees start at $11.26 per hour, which the co-op calculated is a composite “living wage” in Grafton and Coos counties, and also receive health and dental benefits, a 401(k) and discounts.

King is also proud of how the 14,000-square foot co-op building is operated.

“We’ve invested a lot of money in solar, a car-charging station, added doors to our coolers and LED lights throughout,” he said, with the net affect being that the now expanded building is using the same amount of electricity but less propane.{/div}