Food Co-ops Support Community

Because they inherently serve and benefit the communities in which they’re located, retail food cooperatives make a substantially greater social and economic impact compared to their traditional grocery store counterparts.

According to “Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops,” a recent quantitative study released by the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA), there are a variety of ways in which cooperative businesses do well while also doing good.

Because they’re owned and governed by member-shoppers, NCGA co-ops are open to the public and rooted in principles like community, voluntary and open membership, and economic participation. Currently, 128 independent co-op members operate 165 storefronts and generate more than $1.4 billion in annual revenue.

The study’s key findings include:

  • Co-ops work with an average of 157 local farmers and producers, versus 65 at conventional grocers.
  • Of produce sales at food co-ops, 82 percent are organic, compared to 12 percent for conventional grocers.
  • Organics make up 48 percent of total grocery sales in food co-ops, compared to just 2 percent in conventional grocers.
  • For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy – 1.5 times more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.
  • 68 percent of co-op employees are eligible for health insurance, compared to 56 percent of workers at conventional grocery stores.
  • Co-ops recycle 96 percent of cardboard, 74 percent of food waste and 81 percent of plastics compared to 91 percent, 36 percent and 29 percent, respectively, recycled by conventional grocers.

“A quantitative assessment like this that shows the impacts of food co-ops has never been done,” said Robynn Shrader, CEO for the Iowa City-based NCGA. “We wanted to put numbers to what we’ve known for decades, that food co-ops generate tangible social and economic benefits for the communities they serve in ways that conventional grocers just can’t."

Local and Sustainable Foods

Though “local” is a common term in conventional grocery stores in recent years, retail food co-ops have the edge as they work with 157 local farmers and producers on average compared to conventional grocers’ average of 65. Likewise, locally sourced products comprise an average of 20 percent of co-ops sales compared to 6 percent at conventional stores.

Economic Impact

The impact that a grocery store has on its local economy is greater than its spending alone as a portion of that money recirculates back into its respective community. Food co-ops purchase from local farmers who, in turn, buy supplies from local sources, hire local technicians for equipment repair and purchases good and services from local retailers. For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 is generated in their local economy - $239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional store.

Employee Benefits

The average co-op earning $10 million per year in revenue provides jobs for over 90 workers. In total, 68 percent of those workers are eligible for health insurance, compared to 56 percent of employees at conventional grocers. Co-op employees also earn an average of nearly $1 more per hour than conventional grocery workers when bonuses and profit sharing are taken into account.

Individually, co-ops serve the distinct needs of communities from major markets like Portland and Minneapolis to the Ozarks in Arkansas. Together, co-ops have the purchasing power to rival conventional grocery chains, and the good business practices to make a significant economic, social and environmental impact.

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