Food Co-ops Tout Social, Environmental Gains

2021 impact report lays out ways these local retailers are changing the food system
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
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National Co+op Grocers Impact Report Main Image
NCG's latest impact report found that food co-ops are still leaders in offering products that are better for people and the environment.

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) has released its “2021 Food Co-op Impact Report,” which details the many ways that food co-ops are effecting change in the food system to prioritize people’s well-being all along the value chain.

According to the report, the average food co-op employs 96 people, 57% of whom are eligible for healthcare benefits, 13% higher than the national coverage rate for service employees (44%). Of NCG’s 148 independent food co-ops, 58% pay staffers local livable wages, and 66% contribute to staff retirement plans. By contrast, according to national U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics data, 40% of service employees offer employer-sponsored retirement plans.

As food co-ops work toward the goal of having the diversity of their staff and leadership reflect their local communities, 95% of food co-ops report consensually and securely tracking staff demographic information, and 76% track demographics for leadership. NCG offers education, training and support to enable food co-ops to make institutional changes to create an inclusive, equitable employment culture.

The report also highlights the strength of collaboration when it comes to food co-ops’ ability to make natural and organic foods more affordable. For instance, the Co+op Deals promotion programsaves customers an average of 25% off retail prices on more than 2,000 brand-name items on sale each month. The program complements the everyday high-quality, low-price Co+op Basics program, now consisting of 379 items.

In the area of supporting local farmers and entrepreneurs, the average NCG food co-op purchases from 178 local farms and producers, whose products make up 26% of a co-op’s total sales. 

Additionally, food co-ops are still leaders in offering products that are better for people and the environment. NCG’s report found that 40% of food co-ops’ combined annual $2.4 billion sales come from Certified Organic products, and that NCG donated $90,000 to organizations advocating for organic agriculture in 2021. Certified B Corp products made up 9% of the average food co-op’s total sales, higher than other natural grocers (7%) and conventional grocers’ sales (2%), while Fair Trade Certified products accounted for 5% of sales, also higher than other natural grocery competitors (3%) and conventional grocers (0.5%).

While food co-ops work individually to lower their carbon footprint, they also collaborate through NCG to reduce the negative environmental impact of their supply chain. Since 2012, food co-ops have been partnering with fair-trade farmer co-ops in Peru to offset a portion of greenhouse-gas emissions associated with annual business travel by planting and protecting trees in the Peruvian Amazon. To date, this program, Co+op Forest, has helped plant and/or protect more than 1.8 million trees.

St. Paul, Minn.-based NCG, a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops throughout the United States, helps unify food co-ops to optimize operational and marketing resources, increase purchasing power, and ultimately offer more value to food co-op owners and shoppers. Its 148 member co-ops operate more than 200 stores in 38 states with combined annual sales of more $2.4 billion.

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