The Rise in Food Co-Op Popularity: What’s Behind It?

Reader Contribution by Kayla Matthews
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People have recently become more interested in doing business with cooperatives, often abbreviated as co-ops. The main thing that sets a co-op apart from a traditional company is that the people who own it are also involved in substantial parts of its operations.

Here’s a look at why many individuals believe it’s worthwhile to link in with a co-op.

Co-Ops Offer More Organic and Local Products

Many people in modern society are especially concerned about how their actions impact environmental sustainability. They frequently decide to “vote with their wallets” and buy from brands that operate ethically and care about the planet.

According to a 2017 study commissioned by an organization called National Co+op Grocers, co-ops align with consumer’s preferences that protect the planet. For example, cooperatives collectively sell $32 million worth of fair-trade products every year. Plus, the study found that USDA Certified Organic products comprise 42% of a co-op’s total sales, whereas it’s only 5% at a typical national grocery store.

For starters, organic products cannot use synthetic fertilizer or toxic pesticides. Farming without these things has a more positive effect on the environment overall.

Another way co-op shoppers can promote environmental sustainability is by prioritizing local products versus those that travel long distances to reach store shelves. The National Co+op Grocers study revealed that the average co-op contains products from 185 local farms. Additionally, local products make up 21% of a co-op’s sales.

Although people can get organic and locally sourced products without going to a co-op, it’s easy to see why they’d view a cooperative as a superior option. If those outlets have a wider selection and give shoppers more freedom to make meaningful purchases, consumers would understandably see them in a favorable light.

Co-Ops Produce Less Waste

Evidence shows that cooperatives don’t rely on as many single-use plastics as traditional supermarkets. In 2018, environmental groups surveyed supermarkets in the United Kingdom and included Co-op, a regional cooperative, in its data. Co-op led the way in recyclable packaging, with 79% of the material already widely recycled.

The research also calculated a brand’s plastic footprint by figuring out how much plastic it used annually relative to market share calculations per the value of items purchased. According to the study, Co-op had the smallest annual plastic footprint, equalling approximately 4,700 tons.

Additionally, the report mentioned Co-op’s plans to eliminate single-use plastics by 2023. In that case, Co-op defined single-use plastics as nonrecyclable options.

Cutting down on waste goes beyond the packaging used or not used. The National Co+op Grocers study discussed above found that the average co-op donated 24,100 pounds of edible products to food pantries.

Co-Ops Bring an Even Distribution of Power

Something that frustrates many people about today’s companies is that they give too much authority to a small number of people who have the greatest amount of ownership shares. With the cooperative model, each member gets one vote. Since members enjoy personal investment, they may feel more eager to help it succeed.

Statistics show that companies see a productivity increase of 5% on average during the year they became worker cooperatives. Various kinds exist. With worker co-ops, the members are employed by that entity. Consumer co-ops are those where people become members of cooperatives and then purchase things from it. In that case, the members influence which products the co-op stocks.

Relatedly, purchasing co-ops form when several small businesses with a common goal band together. Their combined power allows them to achieve discounts and other perks that are often only reserved for the wealthiest, most prolific brands.

Along with facilitating a healthy balance of power, cooperatives commonly support initiatives that benefit their communities. In one example, the United Kingdom’s Co-op funds a campaign called “Safer Colleagues, Safer Communities.” It urges the government to send a clear message of intolerance regarding physical or verbal attacks in retail. The launch comes at a time when a criminologist working on the campaign saw violence of “epidemic proportions” against store workers.

When people want to reclaim some of the power held by large organizations, it makes sense for them to become aligned with a co-op. Cooperatives truly give influence back to the individuals associated with them.

Co-Ops Emphasize Maintaining High Standards of Quality

Another aspect that often attracts people to cooperatives is that they usually have higher-than-average quality standards. Sometimes, such as with grocery co-ops, the prices are slightly higher than what big-box grocery brands offer, and the overall size of the store is smaller. However, since members’ votes affect what the locations sell, it’s often easier for shoppers to find things like products that support dietary preferences or requirements.

The option to buy foods in bulk at a cooperative frequently offsets the potentially higher prices charged. Some co-ops give discounts to people who make bulk purchases. On top of that, a person bought 14 consumable staples from a food club and received an average savings of 54% compared to buying the packaged supermarket versions.

Anyone can buy things at a food co-op — bulk or otherwise — without being a member. However, signing up for membership could enable a person to get extra discounts not otherwise available to them. Many shoppers don’t mind paying a bit more if they find that the quality levels of the merchandise consistently surpass what they see at non-cooperative retailers.

Valid Reasons for the Popularity Increase

This overview details some of the defining reasons why individuals decide to do business with co-ops. Although the content focuses on retail-based cooperatives, it’s important to clarify that numerous others exist — from energy to banking.

Regardless of the type, co-ops run on the principle that every member gets one vote — furthering equality in a way many people frequently find fascinating and worth trying.

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Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on ProductivityTheory.com.


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