Food co-op still going strong

BLUE EARTH – In an age when many specialty food stores are closing, Rainbow Food Co-op recently celebrated its 34th anniversary.

The Blue Earth store celebrated with an open house, drawings and sales, said manager Marilyn Palm.

“The special everyone requests is three spices of your choice, up to half price,” she said. “Our spices are very popular. We especially sell a lot of chili powder, pepper, cinnamon and onion flake.”

Getting what the customer wants is the reason Rainbow Food is still around, Palm said.

“It still is to get the nutritional foods at a reasonable cost, finding things they can’t get at other stores: non-GMO and preservative-free, organic foods,” she said.

It’s been that way since 1979.

“Mary Adams put an ad in the paper [saying] a food co-op was coming to Blue Earth, come to an organizational meeting,” Palm recalled. “Positive way to say it.”

It got people to come from as far away as Fairmont and Delavan.

“Anyone who owns a share of stock is an owner,” Palm said. “We have over 500 owners. It’s always been a co-op.”

The mission, as stated in the “Cooking with Rainbow Food” cookbook, says the store is “a source of whole, unadulterated foods not readily available in supermarkets.”

“Our biggest sellers at that time are the same as they are now: oatmeal, raisins, dried fruit,” Palm said.

The shop was first located at 112 E. Sixth Street. It moved to its present location at 103 S. Main a few years later. A bigger store was needed to carry all the items.

The co-op has a whole wall of more than 200 bulk items, which are the store’s bread-and-butter products. But over the years, it has added vitamins and food supplements; health and beauty aids; more than 200 spices and herbs; and packaged items.

It caters to people with special diets.

“Gluten-free is big,” Palm said. “Low salt, dairy-free and allergies.”

Times have changed and Rainbow changed too.

“I don’t think people bake quite as much as they used to, so the packaged food sells more,” she said.

Even so, baking items such as different flours and spices “are at the top of our list,” Palm said.

The secret to Rainbow’s success is simple.

“Personal service,” Palm said. “Special orders, finding information for them, customer satisfaction.”