What does it mean to be “cooperatively owned?” How is that different from just a regular grocery store?

When a store is cooperatively owned (a “co-op,” for short) it means that its members invest either their time, money, or both to be able to take part in the decision making processes the store makes. Members sometimes get discounts on food, but more importantly, their membership allows them a vote in making all vital decisions about the direction of the co-op and helps them feel tied to their community.

What are the advantages of a co-op over another kind of store? Wouldn’t it be better just to get Whole Foods to come in?

Unfortunately, when those stores exist in an area, it may be easier to get organic food, but the money is funneled out of the community and into the stockholders’ or private owners’ hands. In a co-op, any profit is typically either given back to the members, or invested back into the business so that it can continue to grow, create jobs for the community, and offer a wider selection of food.

What are some of the benefits of a co-op to it’s community?

Organic Foods

At food co-ops, 82% of foods are organic, compared to 12 percent for conventional grocers. And, organics make up 48% of grocery sales in food co-ops, compared to just 2 percent in conventional grocers. 

Supporting Local Food Systems and Sustainable Foods

Conventional grocers work with an average of 65 local farmers and food producers, but food co-ops work with an average of 157. Likewise, locally sourced products make up an average of 20% of co-op sales compared to 6 percent at conventional stores.

Local Economic Impact

At food co-ops, the money spent locally recirculates. For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy—$239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.

For example, food co-ops purchase from local farmers who, in turn, buy supplies from local sources, hire local technicians to repair equipment, and purchase goods and services from local retailers. To some extent, conventional grocers do too, but the gap is still significant.

Chart on local purchasing vs. conventional

 Employee Benefits

Based on earnings of  $10 million per year in revenue, co-ops provide jobs for over 90 workers. In total, 68% of those workers are eligible for health insurance, compared to only 56% of employees at conventional grocers.

Co-op employees also earn an average of nearly $1.00 more per hour than conventional grocery workers. 

Environmental Stewardship

Co-ops vs. conventional grocers:

  • Recycle 96% of cardboard vs. 91%
  • Recycle 74% of food waste vs. 36%
  • Recycle 81% of plastics vs. only 29%

For more information on how food co-ops are benefiting the communities they are located in check out some of the info from a new study, Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops,* (Information taken from Co-op: StrongerTogether.

How long does it usually take to get a co-op up and running?

It can take several years — but it really depends on how much the community is willing to help make it happen, and how quickly they are willing to join as member-owners. Click on Help Spread the Word or Volunteer Opportunities pages to find out how you can help.

Why so long?

Fundraising is a big part of it. Like any business, co-op startups will need a lot of money to begin operations. And, just like any other successful grocery store, it will need a feasibility study, a business plan, a location, and a talented general manager, and this can take some time. Many successful co-ops that open today often hire outside companies to help them complete these vital steps, and money will need to be raised for that, too.

There are many more questions and misconceptions people have about co-ops. If you are interested in learning more, read “How To Start A Coop.” If you are unable to view this file, you’ll need to download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader.

If you have more questions, please contact us.