Supermarkets might be appearing left and right, but are they the best place to shop? Let’s take a moment to think about what sets member-owned food cooperative grocery stores apart from conventional supermarkets. The facts might surprise you!
Food co-ops are retail cooperatives that are owned by the people who shop there. This means that food co-ops are owned by members of the community – not outside investors. Each member-owner has a say in decisions that affect the co-op; and instead of paying outside investors, co-ops return their profits to their member-owners in the form of patronage refunds – dividends, cash, discounts, or store credit. Food co-ops source products from more local farmers and producers, donate proportionally more dollars to charity, have better worker wages and benefits, and give back more to the local economy than traditional grocery stores. Take a look at these statistics from the National Co+op Grocers about the environmental impacts of food co-ops versus those of conventional grocery stores:
When you walk into your local food co-op, staff members can answer the questions, “where does this potato come from?” or “is this product made in a sustainable manner?” because food co-ops have transformed the way business is conducted by establishing strong roots in the community. The employee with whom you converse might (likely!) be a member of the co-op him/herself!
The basis of cooperation is to work together toward a common goal. Food co-ops offer the opportunity for members to bring necessary goods and services to their community in a way that meets their needs. When large grocery chains offer bulk items with fewer quality control measures, co-ops alternatively “keep things local” by sourcing local, fresh, organic foods and products from producers in the area. This not only benefits local farmers; it also gives community members ownership and decisions in the kinds of foods their families eat. Community ownership, knowledgeable employees, and strong farm-to-store relationships are just a few factors that showcase the co-op difference!
Many independently owned and operated local food co-ops are members of the National Co+op Grocers (NCG). NCG is a business services cooperative for food co-ops, representing 150 food co-ops, with over 200 store locations in 38 states, owned by 1.5 million consumer-members. NCG gives food co-ops the resources they need to succeed by providing them with marketing resources, purchasing power, professional development and training sessions, and great operational and merchandising techniques. NCG advocates for co-ops, and it acts as a first-line resource for new and expanding co-ops. CEO Robynn Shrader recently spoke about increasing cooperatives’ competiveness in today’s changing business environment at the International Summit of Cooperatives in Quebec City, Canada. For an NCG member location near you, visit our Co-op Locator!
Visit your local food co-op today to see how dedicated employees and members, alike, are keeping things local. Fill out a membership application while you’re there so that you, too, can be an owner of the co-op. Why not own your shopping experience? Become a member of a food co-op today, and rest assured that your purchases are making your family, community, and planet healthier and stronger!
To learn more about food co-ops, and for some healthy eating tips and recipes, check out NCG’s YouTube channel.
For more information about food co-ops and the National Co+op Grocers, visit strongertogether.coop.