What is a Cooperative Market?

A cooperative market is a business owned and operated by a group of individuals for a mutual benefit. The cooperative movement started in the 19th century with the first food cooperative starting in Rochdale, England by industrial weavers called the Rochdale Pioneers. The pioneers wanted to access food that wasn’t readily available. Today, many Co-ops base their principles on the Rochdale Pioneers and they are now practiced worldwide.

The modern cooperative market began in the 1970’s and was an organic, anti corporate and alternative to grocery store chains. These food cooperatives began to surface in major cities and college towns, catering to the food-conscious customer. Between 1969–1979, over 10,000 food co-ops were established.

Manager stocking shelves at Weaver’s Way Co-op in Philadelphia

Co-ops around the world follow the spirit of 7 Principles developed in 1955 by the International Cooperative Alliance in Manchester, England.

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership
    Cooperatives are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership, without gender, social, racial, political or religious discrimination.
  2. Democratic Member Control
    Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote) and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.
  3. Member Economic Participation
    Members contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.
  4. Autonomy and Independence
    Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.
  5. Education, Training, and Information
    Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public — particularly young people and opinion leaders — about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives
    Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.
  7. Concern for Community
    Cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their members.

A Co-op is owned by its members. This means that it is owned and democratically controlled by the people who shop there. Members pay a one time fee for an owner’s share. Though the store is controlled by these members, it doesn’t mean you are not allowed to shop there. Everyone is invited to be one of their customers, member or not.

Here are some great reasons why you should become a member at your local Co-op

  • Monthly Owner Deals throughout Grocery and Wellness.
  • 10% off during our Owner Appreciation Days twice a year
  • 20% off special orders (by the case)
  • Monthly newsletters delivered to your home!
  • Patronage Dividends: We return profits back to owners in proportion to your purchases during any profitable year
  • Vote to elect the Co-op’s Board of Directors and any policy changes
  • Eligibility to join a Cooperative Community Federal Credit Union
Locally grown produce

So you may not be interested in becoming a Co-op member. That is ok, there are still many great reasons why you should still shop at your local Cooperative Market.

  • They are mission based — Co-op’s are here to serve our owners and community by providing natural foods in a friendly environment.
  • Local and Organic — Organic produce is brought in every day, and they work hard to buy as much as possible from local farmers. Look for local and organic signs throughout the produce department.
  • 52 cents of every dollar you spend returns to the local economy.
  • Fresh prepared foods daily — Every morning our chefs and bakers prep all that we offer, sandwiches, baked goods, dinners, salads and the hot bar.
  • Bulk products — A wide variety of nuts, dried fruits, snacks, granola, flours, beans, spices and teas are available. The dried goods are fresher and more affordable!
  • Organic and rBGH free milks, cheeses and yogurts.
  • Community owned by your neighbors and friends. By shopping the Co-op, you’re supporting a business that is proudly owned by over 10,000 people in your community.
Karma Co-op in Toronto

A major part of a Co-op’s existence is its sustainability. Co-op staff and owners make sure to take this into consideration while making all of their decisions.

  • Buying Local
  • Organics-organic food production reduces chemical fertilizer and pesticide runoff in our water, protects farm workers from disease, and grows healthy, nutrient-dense soil for future farming.
  • Clean Energy-renewable energy sources
  • Green Design for store layout-LED lights, building insulation, natural cleaning products
  • Thoughtful Choices-packaging that can be used for compost or recycled
  • Reduce Waste-recycling waste and composting food scraps for soil
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