Imagine walking into your neighborhood grocery store. Now glance at each of the shoppers around you. Some are selecting apples, others bananas. Notice the employees stocking the shelves. From where you stand, you can even see a few of the cashiers at the check-out. You notice something a little different today. Everyone around you seems a little more prideful – more confident. They all seem to be acting like they own the place.
Because in this scenario, they do! Each fellow shopper, produce clerk, cashier, and even you, are all owners of the store if you are shopping at a food co-operative. No longer are you simply a passive recipient of your shopping experience. You and everyone else in that store are active participants in the business that provides you and your family with food each week.
The truth is, this is no fantasy. This is the very real experience of being a member-owner of a food cooperative (or a community-owned grocery store).
In an age where 80% of Canadians’ grocery dollars end up in the hands of only 5 companies, food co-ops are an intriguing model, to say the least.
Natural food co-ops focus primarily on sourcing organic and local foods and many can trace their histories to a wave of co-op development in the late 60s and early 70s. In B.C. two co-ops remain from that era – the East End Food Co-op in Vancouver and the Kootenay Co-op in Nelson.
10 interesting facts about food co-ops:
- There are 300+ natural food co-ops across Canada and the U.S. (mostly in the U.S.). In Ontario, a new wave of natural food co-op development is taking place. There are another 300+ conventional food co-op stores in Canada.
- When asked; “Who owns the grocery store you shop at?” – members of food co-ops can proudly reply, “me!” The Kootenay Co-op has over 14,000 owners, for example.
- Your grocery bill is an investment: For every $1,000 spent at a natural food co-op, $1,604 is generated in the local economy
- Community giving: Food co-ops contribute 3 times more toward charities and community groups vs. conventional stores.
- Local food: On average natural food co-ops source 20% of their products from local producers vs. 6% at conventional stores.
- Employ more people: A local food co-op’s head office is located within the store itself. This means there are more people employed by a local food co-op than at a chain store.
- Democratic: At most local food co-ops, any member is eligible to run for the co-op’s board of directors. Members are also eligible to vote for directors at the annual election.
- Recirculating profits: Food co-ops don’t profit off of their members. They can’t! Profits are reinvested into the co-op and often returned back to the members in the form of dividends.
- Education, training and information: All co-ops adhere to the principle of Education, Training and Information. At food co-ops, this often shows up in the form of incredible cooking classes, guest speakers and workshops, and helpful publications distributed to members.
- Food co-ops are community hubs: Food co-ops often become a hub of community activity and connection. With the more-than-usual number of conversations often had at a local food co-op, a quick stop for a litre of milk might very well take a half hour of your time.