What is a food co-op, and how is it different from a regular grocery store?
The short answer is that a food co-op is a grocery store owned by your neighbors (and by you, if you choose). Unlike corporate chains, co-ops are totally independent and owned by folks in the community that shop there. Everyone is welcome to shop, eat and hang out at a co-op.
But a co-op is so much more than that—it’s a vibrant hub full of people who are passionate about food, caring for each other and the world. It’s a bridge between farm and city, connecting people who grow and love fresh foods. Co-ops are a force for good in the world—empowering organic farmers, fair trade producers and supporting other cooperative businesses that are also working to improve people’s lives.
Co-ops are for everyone
Who says healthy, organic and delicious has to be exclusive? Co-ops welcome everyone to the table where great food is served because they believe that every parent and caregiver, every coach, every friend, every teacher and every kid is hungry for delicious, healthy food that nourishes them. Co-ops are on a mission to make sure that everyone in their community can get it!
With over 2,000 products on sale every month at the co-op, something you love is always on sale. Co+op Deals discounts and coupon savings average 20% off regular prices.
At the co-op, Co+op Basics groceries offer lower prices without compromising on values. Some competitors claim their value products are “natural” or “sustainable.” Co+op Basics groceries bear third-party certifications like USDA Organic, Non-GMO Project Verified, Fair Trade Certified and Certified Humane so you know how your food was made.
Welcome to fresh
Flavorful and healthy, fresh foods are the best! Crisp veggies, sweet fruits, pasture-raised eggs, organic milk, sustainably sourced fish and humanely raised meats—co-ops are a community destination for delicious, fresh food.
Food co-ops want everyone to enjoy the pleasures and health benefits of fresh foods, which is why they work together to advocate for increased funding for federal programs that double the money SNAP shoppers receive to purchase locally grown fruits and veggies. The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program provides grants that nonprofits use to partner with food co-ops and farmers markets to increase access to those fresh, healthy foods everyone loves.
Co-ops know everyone wants the freshest, best produce for their dollar—which is why fresh foods with imperfections get donated to their local food shelves—still delicious, still nutritious—nourishing neighbors in need.
Co-ops are all about community
Co-ops are owned by their communities, not some corporate office 1,000 miles away. Instead of focusing on Wall Street investors, co-ops focus on what their neighbors want—nourishing everyone according to their budget and cooking style. Co-ops know how to get the best local food because they greet the farmers that supply them by name when they make deliveries. And co-ops are passionate about giving back to their communities because they know that good food is just the beginning of what people can achieve by working together.
When you shop at a co-op, you’re supporting local farmers and producers as well as investing in supply chain transparency. Co-ops are committed to empowering local entrepreneurs and small business owners by bringing their products to market—but shoppers are the ones who keep them in business.
Co-ops have local roots
Co-ops are staffed by their community, owned by their community and serve as a gathering place for the community. No other grocery store has such deep local roots.
In addition to raising money for local non-profits and food shelves, many co-ops work with their communities in ways that reflect each community’s unique needs. For example, many co-ops offer community dinner nights where healthy meals are under $5, and some connect their customers to local producers by organizing farm tours during the growing season.
Co-ops offer classes and community events because education and concern for community are in their DNA. Cooperative businesses follow seven principles: they’re open to all, democratically run with everyone equally invested, they’re self-sufficient, promote education, support fellow cooperatives and put community first!
Co-ops are good for the world
Food co-ops are owned by people, not a corporation, so they prioritize their community, local farmers and the planet. When you shop at a food co-op, you help strengthen this collective impact.
Organic products make up 39% of sales at the average food co-op. Organic farming keeps waterways clean, builds rich and fertile soil that has been proven to help slow global warming and creates habitat for pollinators like bees and butterflies…things needed for an abundant and healthy food supply.
Certified organic food by law cannot be grown using toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or GMO seeds. Food co-ops unite with organic farmers, companies and brands to lobby Congress in support of strong national organic standards that reflect what customers expect from the label.
Co-ops offer products with transparency
Co-ops sell $29 million of Fair Trade Certified products every year—fair trade certification means that workers are paid a livable wage, have safe working conditions and are able to invest in community development projects like hospitals, clean drinking water and schools. Fair trade also prohibits child labor.
Each year, co-ops sell $62 million of cooperatively produced goods and $102 million of products from Certified B Corporations. Like co-ops, B Corps champion the triple bottom line that is the hallmark of sustainable businesses: people, planet and profit.
Food co-ops regularly partner with companies to promote products that increase awareness and raise money for causes like hunger, education and sustainable farming methods. In 2019, working together, co-ops built a school in the Philippines with Vita Coco, raised money for Feeding America and helped raise funds for school gardens in co-op communities.
Co-ops are responding to the climate crisis
Food co-ops are working individually to reduce their carbon footprints and respond to the climate crisis by measuring and reducing their greenhouse gas emissions from electricity, fuel use and refrigerant gases.
Since 2012, food co-ops have been working collectively with fair trade farmer co-ops in Peru to offset a portion of greenhouse gas emissions associated with their annual business travel by planting and protecting trees in the Peruvian Amazon. It’s called Co+op Forest.
Trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide—a greenhouse gas—from the atmosphere, effectively slowing the rate of climate change. As of 2019, Co+op Forest is home to an estimated 1.8 million trees and the region has been named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, to serve as a model of sustainable communities.
Many food co-ops began as buying clubs for people wanting affordable food with less impact. To continue to deliver on that promise, food co-ops created their own buying club in 1999—National Co+op Grocers (NCG). By combining purchasing power on packaged groceries, they can deliver great deals on great products and serve their local communities and farmers better.
Food Policy for the People
Through NCG, food co-ops have a united voice on Capitol Hill when it comes to issues many shoppers care about like federal programs that increase access to healthy food for everyone, protect food transparency for consumers and support organic farmers.
Cooperation Increases Impact
Through NCG, food co-ops unite on issues that matter to their communities. In 2019 food co-ops raised over $77,000 for National Farm to School Network to increase kids’ access to and knowledge of healthy food and sponsored national climate leadership awards for companies in their supply chain that are meaningfully addressing climate change.
Cooperatives Do Business Better
Not only is NCG a cooperative, it is also a Certified B Corporation. NCG shares co-ops’ triple bottom line—people, planet and profit—and shares their commitment to making the world a better place. Through NCG, food co-ops donated $75,000 to the Food Co-op Initiative, a nonprofit helping communities organize new food co-ops and improve access to healthy food since 2005.