Outpost Natural Foods Focuses On Bringing In More Businesses Owned By People Of Color
Minority-owned small businesses have struggled to stay afloat throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
More than half of Black-owned business owners say the pandemic has had a negative effect on their business. Fifty-seven percent of Latino and 63% of Asian American & Pacific Islander business owners say the same. This is according to Small Business Majority, a national small business organization that empowers diverse entrepreneurs to build a thriving and equitable economy.
COVID-19 exposed many disparities in non-white ethnic groups. But the pandemic’s disparate impact on Black folks did not stop them from leading social justice movements nationwide in the wake of police killings of Black and brown people.
The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on people of color, combined with acts of racial injustice, compelled the Milwaukee co-op Outpost Natural Foods to reaffirm its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion by increasing partnerships with businesses of color.
Shaquita Mann was so excited about her products being sold at the community-owned grocery co-op that she brought along her 5-year-old daughter when delivering her first shipment.
“Just to show her at 5 years old that the possibilities are endless as long as you apply yourself and just truly believe in yourself. She may not fully understand, but this will be a moment that she will always remember. When she looks back at it, like, it will be empowering to her,” says Mann.
Already, her daughter hasn’t wasted any time becoming an entrepreneur; she has a lemonade business.
Mann is the creator of Blossom Candle Company. According to Blossom’s product description on Outpost’s website, the hand-crafted, eco-friendly candles are designed and scented to enhance your own intentions, “whether that is to clear your mind, to find your inner warrior, or to just breathe a little freer.”
The candles hit Outpost shelves in March, and Mann says it still feels surreal. But it is real, and she’s loving the relationships she’s been able to build with people at each of the four Outpost locations in the Milwaukee area.
Mann says it’s “major” that the co-op is prioritizing businesses of color in their goals for diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I just feel like it’s such a great opportunity for them to be having this. And it’s community based; that’s what I appreciate,” she says.
Margaret Mittelstadt is the director of community relations for Outpost. She says with four locations across the Milwaukee area, the co-op is always considering whether it’s being representative of the communities they are in.
That, plus seeing the pandemic’s impact on people of color and nationwide racial injustice over the last year, Mittelstadt says, contributes to Outpost’s commitment to being a model for change in the community.
“We said to ourselves, 'You know, we need to take a much deeper look at who we are as a business, and what are we doing to address systemic racism and how can we operate as a business of inclusiveness in our community,'” she says.
Mittelstadt says those conversations are happening at all levels from the board of directors, to operational directors and top management.
She says she hopes the greater Milwaukee community will see that Outpost is willing to look honestly at itself to ensure it is living up to its values of health, diversity, sustainability and inclusion.
“It’s what we have to do, it’s what is required for us to do as a co-op and as a business that it made up of the community itself,” she says.
TrueMan McGhee is the owner and head roll master of Funky Fresh Spring Rolls. He describes them as non-traditional spring rolls — never deep-fried and baked in healthy oils. His products have been in Outpost stores since January.
Funky Fresh Spring Rolls and Blossom Candle Company are two of four new Milwaukee businesses added to the growing list of Outpost vendors of color since the start of the pandemic.
McGhee commends Outpost for having their “ear to the streets” and being willing to do their part to increase equity with minority-owned businesses in the food industry.
He thinks that’s valuable to food entrepreneurs in Milwaukee. “It gives them the opportunity to have another line of income. It just gives people another opportunity to get their product in front of people. I would encourage anybody that’s in the food space to work on a retail made product. You could do that now, that could create wealth for your business, for your family for generations,” McGhee says.
McGhee says he’s excited to be realizing his dream of getting Funky Fresh Spring Rolls in grocery stores.
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