Food Cooperatives


The member-owners of food cooperatives are typically consumers; however, some are worker-owned or share decision-making among workers and consumers.

Consumer food cooperatives are formed to control the type and quality of products available, obtain lower food prices, and include retail supermarkets with one or more outlets and buying groups with a few to hundreds of members. Many cooperative supermarkets began as small buying clubs and developed into storefront cooperatives as membership increased.

In addition to traditional economic benefits associated with cooperative food purchasing, these cooperatives often emphasize nutritional quality, production, and distribution alternatives such as organic lines and free trade and offer information and education to make informed choices.

Members of food cooperatives democratically elect a board of directors who make policy decisions about the cooperative. Most cooperative markets hire a manager to oversee the day-to-day administration of the store. These cooperatives typically allow anyone to shop at the store but offer discounts and “patronage dividends” to members. A patronage dividend is the member’s share of year-end profits based on the number of purchases made over that period. Sometimes cooperatives offer price discounts for members who contribute volunteer time to the cooperative.

In addition to storefront food cooperatives, there are buying clubs. In this model, households combine to purchase bulk food to take advantage of quantity discounts and obtain a range of foods not available locally. Buying clubs are generally run on a volunteer basis by members, with most members volunteering time.