have you shopped at a food cooperative before? they’re all over the country so i wouldn’t be surprised if you have or have even shopped at one without knowing! in your mind you might be picturing a harry potter-esque store with narrow aisles, wooden shelves, and dry goods stacked high and haphazardly! sometimes that is right… BUT oftentimes they look just like conventional grocery stores. a cooperative is a community supported and run organization with an active board and members who make decisions for the store, including deciding what products are sold at the store. this is different than a privately held food store, which doesn’t have voting members.
in the 1970’s food co-ops started popping up because of the demand for local, ‘natural’, and whole food products, which were a category of products that could not be found at conventional grocery stores at that time. the co-op model was also ideal for communities that had no grocery stores. instead of needing to find a big investor, community members could share the financial burden of opening a store and form the buying power needed to purchase food. now, organic, ‘natural’, and whole foods are more accessible than ever due to the growth of stores like Whole Foods, grocery e-commerce, and the rise of these products being available at many conventional food stores. however, food co-ops still serve their purpose in today’s fast-changing retail landscape by providing benefits that these stores are not.
a co-ops founding purpose is to have a social responsibility towards their community. some of the ways they make good on this promise is by working with local growers and makers and by choosing what products to sell and who to work with based on overall social impact (environmental, economic, etc.). co-ops do so much local purchasing that one study showed that for every $1,000 spent at a food co-op, $1,606 goes to the local economy (60%)! whereas the local recirculation of revenue for chain stores is closer to 30%.
co-ops also have programs to help make grocery items less expensive for those who need it. co-ops have working memberships which allow members to work at the co-op to get reduced prices on groceries. and it’s not even a ton of working hours! Weavers Way, the co-op we work with, for example, only requires you to work 6 hours in the whole year! that’s one hour every other month!
one of the reasons we love working with co-ops is because of the store-member-customer relationship. demoing at co-ops are some of my favorite events because the members, working members, and customers are SO interested in learning about nosh bar and about seeing a local company do well.
if you’d like to find a co-op near you, check out this map to find the closest one!
happy co-op'ing and happy noshing!