This station doubles as a showcase or display for the herbs and tea, and a self-serve station where people can fill their own bags of herbs. Although the jars are glass jars, which are not ideal because they allow for some break-down of the herbs with light, the display was located in a dark back corner of the store, minimizing the negative effects of the light.
Pictured here are the implements for filling bags, which include scoops and funnels:
Self-serve setups like this are relatively common in natural food stores and co-ops across the country. There is a lot that I like about these sort of self-serve displays. In particular:
- These displays can offer a large selection of herbs and/or tea while taking up minimal space. The space taken up by the display is smaller than that taken up by many supermarkets' packaged tea bag selections.
- The small size of the jars allows for high turnover of the jars' contents, ensuring freshness.
- The self-service station keeps costs down, enabling customers to purchase tea and herbs for a reasonable price, while the store can still make a comfortable profit, without needing to expend employee time for measuring and serving herbs.
- Allowing people to measure out their own herbs and tea enables people to buy the exact quantity they want. This is convenient both for very small sizes (such as for sampling loose-leaf tea, or buying infrequently-used spices) or very large sizes (such as for someone like me, who goes through ground coriander faster than most households use salt or sugar). Most supermarkets offer only fixed sizes of herbs and spices, which are often either too small or too large for people's needs.
What I like about Frontier Co-Op:
First, before I go into depth about what I like about Co-op, I want to point out that the company not only sells loose-leaf tea and bulk herbs in stores, but also through their website:
Some of the things I like most about Frontier Co-op:
- Frontier is organized as a cooperative, wholly owned by its wholesale customers, many of which are in turn cooperatives, like Mariposa co-op, owned by individual people. The co-op model has a number of compelling advantages over other models of ownership; the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA) has a website that explains this model of business ownership in depth.
- Through its displays in retail stores, Frontier makes a wide selection of herbs available that are not widely available in stores in the U.S., and it also sells loose-leaf orthodox teas of decent quality, which, unfortunately do not tend to be widely available in the U.S. either.
- Frontier Co-op is strongly committed to sustainability, and is a definitive leader in this area, going above and beyond even what many of the more environmentally- and ethically-conscious tea companies are doing. There is so much that this organization is doing to promote sustainability that it is not possible to cover it all here; if you want to read more, I'd invite you to read the sustainability section on Frontier's site. Frontier publishes an annual sustainability report, and has a tangible pathway towards achieving certain goals, with measurable milestones. They also have a great deal more transparency than is the norm in the tea industry. Perhaps some other tea companies can get some good ideas and inspiration in here!
- The quality of the bulk herbs is top-notch, and the teas are not bad. Although Frontier unfortunately does not sell what I would consider to be true artisan tea (single-harvest, single-estate teas), they sell a number of single-region orthodox teas of reasonable quality. And their prices are much lower than the prices on similar teas. The low prices, including on products that are both organic and fair trade certified, sold from a company that has gone above and beyond in the area of sustainability, provide proof that tea companies can deliver sustainably-sourced products at low cost. I have tried a few of Frontier's teas, and while they did not wow me as being otherworldly, they were solidly good. You can find reviews of the few teas I've sampled on RateTea's page on Frontier.
I hope that individuals reading this post can have the opportunity to try out Frontier Co-op's herbs, spices, and teas, if they have not already done so. And I hope that people working within the tea industry can look into the various things Frontier is doing to promote sustainability, and can get some good ideas and inspiration. I am hopeful that relatively soon, many of the practices that Frontier is spearheading will become the norm.
What do you think?
Have you tried the teas from Frontier Co-op? How about their herbs and spices? And what do you think about what they are doing to promote sustainability? What do you think of the co-operative model in general? And, for those who work within the tea industry, do you have any plans to implement any of the practices that Frontier has been engaging in in terms of sustainable sourcing, operations, or transparency?