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)

Notable Replies

  1. WinCo is based out of Boise. Is Idaho considered the Midwest now?

  2. Credit cards charge business massive fees for the privilege of accepting them. My parents have ran their own auto shop for some 35 years; they shitcanned the CC machine three years ago, and have saved roughly $16,000 so far from not having to shell out to those vultures.

    Used the money to go to Cuba last year, and do a tour of the states this year.

  3. I used to shop at WinCo in California, and just used a check instead of a card to pay. And yes we bagged our own groceries. Seemed great to me at the time, but I was a college student so anything cheap was great smile

  4. CLP says:

    Indeed! The states with Winco stores are Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington; none of these states are in the Midwest.

  5. Oh, definitely. I worked mainly in restaurants for the first chunk of my adult life, before landing a gig at my local co-op grocery. It's just a world of difference, and I really can't speak highly enough. This is not to say that there wasn't the occasional frustrating bullsh*t, workplace politics, or what-have-you. It was, after all, work wink

    For the first time in my life, I earned a real "living wage," had access to a reasonably-priced health plan, and accrued retirement benefits. The upper management of the store generally took care to provide promising employees with opportunities for increased responsibility and advancement. I could afford to live in a decent place, enjoy the occasional luxury purchase, and do some traveling. Hell, I actually got these things called "vacations"; If I took time off to visit family or recover from illness, I still had a job. (That one took a long time to adjust to...)

    • "Normal" service industry job (at 4 yrs.): no benefits, no security, no real agency, maybe $16k/yr.
    • Cooperative service industry job (at 4 yrs.): full benefits, security, significant agency, approximately $30k/yr.

    I'm sure that for many Boingers, that second figure still seems paltry. However, in context, it's freakin' life-changing. Then there's the mental health benefit of feeling reasonably valued as an employee, and the positive feedback loop of employee ownership.

    I would wager that at places like this you'll find a much better atmosphere that will be better for everyone.

    So, yeah. ^Exactly. That's why I'm thrilled than non-hippy-dippy businesses are succeeding with a similar model. Let's mainstream that sh*t!

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