WinCo: worker-owned grocery chain that pays benefits, pensions, living wages -- and has lower prices than WalMart

WinCo is a midwestern chain of worker-owned stores that consistently underprice WalMart, while still paying a living wage to their staff and decent prices to their suppliers. Their secret appears to be a smaller selection of goods, sourced directly from factories -- but surely the fact that they're not extracting billions in profits for a family of rapacious plutocrats also helps keep prices low.

Burt Flickinger III, a reputable grocery store analyst, called them "Walmart's worst nightmare." They provide health benefits to all employees who work 24 hours per week or more, as well as pensions. They are expanding into Texas, and Time's Brad Tuttle predicts that they'll double in size every five to seven years.

Prices are kept low through a variety of strategies, the main one being that it often cuts out distributors and other middle men and buys many goods directly from farms and factories. WinCo also trims costs by not accepting credit cards and by asking customers to bag their own groceries. Similarly to warehouse membership stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, and also to successful discount grocers with small stores like Trader Joe’s and Aldi, WinCo stores are organized and minimalist, without many frills, and without the tremendous variety of merchandise that’s become standard at most supermarkets. “Everything is neat and clean, but basic,” Hauptman told Supermarket News. “Though the stores are very large, with a lot of categories, they lack depth or breadth of variety.”

While all of these factors help WinCo compete with Walmart on price, what really might scare the world’s largest retailer is how WinCo treats its employees. In sharp contrast to Walmart, which regularly comes under fire for practices like understaffing stores to keep costs down and hiring tons of temporary workers as a means to avoid paying full-time worker benefits, WinCo has a reputation for doing right by employees. It provides health benefits to all staffers who work at least 24 hours per week. The company also has a pension, with employees getting an amount equal to 20% of their annual salary put in a plan that’s paid for by WinCo; a company spokesperson told the Idaho Statesman that more than 400 nonexecutive workers (cashiers, produce clerks, and such) currently have pensions worth over $1 million apiece. Read more:

Meet the Low-Key, Low-Cost Grocery Chain Being Called ‘Walmart’s Worst Nightmare’ [Brad Tuttle/Time]

(via Kottke)

(Image: The Bulk Bin Area at Winco, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from alishav's photostream)