The Purple Porch Cooperative: Sustaining a Sustainable Business

By Patrick Cavanaugh

Patrick Cavanaugh with General Manager Greg Koehler at PPC
Patrick Cavanaugh with General Manager
Greg Koehler at PPC

My capstone project has taken the form of a business model case study with a particular emphasis on the Purple Porch Cooperative in downtown South Bend, Indiana. By volunteering my time at the coop during regular hours and board member meetings, in addition to one-on-one interviews, I have been able to understand the Purple Porch’s business strategy and operations, as well as valuable insights pertaining to the local food market in the greater Michiana area.

When students look at the Purple Porch case study it is important for them to recognize the two part lesson that the case has to offer. First, the case explains the cooperative model as it relates to the food market. Understanding the theory of the model is the first step in the learning process of this case study. Once the theory is understood, the students will be able to see the practicality of the model through Purple Porch a food cooperative in the South Bend community. Ultimately, students will gain much knowledge through this case by seeing how the theory is applied in a real case.

The Purple Porch Co-op is a food cooperative that is located in the South Bend community. Even though food co-ops have existed since the 1970s, Purple Porch is a very young and upcoming enterprise. They are currently expanding their business and seeking innovative ways to find long-term sustainability in a crowded market place. They hope to do this all while pursuing a social mission. This case study looks at Purple Porch from a variety of different angles and encourages the reader to ask the tough questions.

My objectives for prospective students:

Understand the cooperative model & the current industry snapshot. The local food movement is becoming more widespread across the United States. Consumers are increasingly concerned with purchasing local products.

Students need see the how the implementation of the model may work through a practical example, Purple Porch.

Students should understand the triple bottom line philosophy of the model as a whole and more specifically the specifications of its application in the Purple Porch Enterprise.

The current challenges of the model and then, specifically the challenged Purple Porch faces should be recognized.

Competition: Competitive advantage is a key concern because it explains the firm’s reason for existing.

Students should be able to critique Purple Porch’s business strategy and the co-op model in general.

Finally, students will be presented with a brief case reveal that focuses on the key issues with the longevity of the model and sustainability.

Joe Cady with produce he sells at PPC
Joe Cady with produce he sells at PPC

One of the key issues with the Purple Porch cooperative is its long-term sustainability. The competition that Purple Porch faces is stiff and the South Bend market is relatively small and stagnant. Therefore, how can Purple Porch as an enterprise find sustainability in the long term and market itself with such limited funds? What does Purple Porch need to today, to ensure that long term sustainability can be accomplished?

These are the key questions facing Purple Porch today. However, it may be more interesting for students to be encouraged to look back at what Purple Porch has done thus far in its existence. In other words, students should tackle the issues of Purple Porch’s missteps. Then students should be encouraged to write a response on how they would start a food cooperative in the current economic environment and if they believe such a model is no longer viable, the students should be able to explain why they think that way.