Grocery co-ops an alternative to corporate grocers amid anger, mistrust: experts - Business News (2024)

Grocery co-ops an alternative to corporate grocers amid anger, mistrust: experts - Business News (1)

Photo: The Canadian Press

Store manager Zachary Weingarten helps members cash out at the Karma Co-op Food Store in Toronto, Friday, March 15, 2024. The co-op focuses on local, organic and ethically produced foods, with many products available in bulk for zero-waste shoppers. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

These days, Bruce Woodrow gets most of his groceries at one of two places: Costco, and a small grocery co-operative nestled in an alley in the heart of Toronto.

The retired lawyer — along with many Canadians over the past couple of years — had been growing more concerned with the grocery industry and the profits it was turning as food prices climbed.

Woodrow joined Karma Co-op as a member last spring and now volunteers on the store's finance committee.

"The money, I know, is going to make an operation that I believe in better," said Woodrow.

Co-operatives are found in many forms, from agricultural co-ops to grocery stores, gas stations and car-shares. Their exact business models vary, but what they have in common is that they are owned by their members, who have a share in the organization and a say in how it runs.

About 70 per cent of co-ops are owned by their customers, said Daniel Brunette, senior director of external affairs at Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada. Other co-ops are owned by producers, such as farmers or artists; workers; or multiple stakeholders.

While there's been a steady increase in consumer-owned grocery co-ops in the U.S. in recent years, Canada hasn't seen the same kind of uptick, said Jon Steinman, author of "Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants."

But in some Canadian communities, co-ops are already part of everyday life.

Steinman himself is a member of seven different co-ops — the grocery store Kootenay Co-op in Nelson, B.C., a credit union, a radio station, a carshare, a grain mill, a gas station that also owns a pub, and an outdoor apparel retailer.

Co-ops are popular in Nelson and the surrounding area, he said, in part because it’s a relatively remote region — a common similarity among co-ops. Often co-ops are formed out of necessity.

Single-location co-ops like Karma are different from Federated Co-operatives Ltd. in Western Canada, usually known simply as Co-op.

A federation of independent co-ops with more than 1,500 locations across its network, its retail locations include food stores, gas bars and convenience stores, car washes and liquor outlets.

Each of the locations in the network is a co-op, and then that co-op is a part owner of the federation, which functions like a wholesaler or supplier and provides business services like marketing and technology, Steinman said.

Many grocery co-ops like Karma were formed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, said Steinman.

Karma was formed amid a wider movement spurred on by distrust of large corporations, general manager Zachary Weingarten said.

"Even back in 1972, folks were frustrated with the largest supermarkets and the consolidation they were seeing in the industry, putting the smaller stores out of business," he said.

"Fifty-two years later, we’re still facing a lot of the same issues."

The co-op focuses on local, organic and ethically produced foods, with many products available in bulk for zero-waste shoppers. Members get an extra discount if they work a few hours each month, and they have a vote on how the co-op is run.

The Kootenay Co-op, where Steinman is a member, was founded a few years after Karma. It’s signed up around 700 new members annually for the last few years, said marketing and sales manager Amanda Verigin.

Any profits the grocery makes are reinvested into employee pay and benefits, store improvements, donations and credits for members.

"The more profits that we get, that's more that we can give back to the community," Verigin said.

Inflation put the grocery industry under a microscope, making people think more about where their money goes, she said.

She thinks co-op membership can help people feel like they have some power over larger forces like climate change or corporate consolidation.

"I think co-ops really give people a sense of hope ... maybe we can't fix this on a grand scale, but we can fix it in our community."

Almost two-thirds of co-ops are for-profit, said Brunette, but it’s what co-ops do with those profits that differentiates them from conventional businesses.

In a 2020 Abacus Data poll for Co-operatives and Mutuals Canada, 14 per cent of consumer surveyedsaid they were members of a retail co-operative, including grocery stores.

But many Canadians don’t understand the co-op business model, the study suggested.

In a time of economic and political unease tied to climate change, inequality and a feeling of helplessness, the study said co-operatives could offer Canadians a solution.

There’s usually more interest in co-ops when the economy is doing poorly, said Brunette, or when a specific system is in crisis.

So in theory, the current landscape in Canada — higher prices, frustration with corporations — could make more people interested in joining or starting a co-op, he said.

Grocery co-ops an alternative to corporate grocers amid anger, mistrust: experts - Business News (2024)

FAQs

Who is the owner of co-op gas? ›

We are Co-op

We are owned by our members, not far-away shareholders. Co-op locations, products and services are not always the same because we're guided by the needs of our members.

Who owns the Coop group? ›

We are owned by our members and manage our business for their benefit in accordance with Co-op Values and Principles. Along with all co-operative societies, The Co-operative Group is democratically controlled by its members.

Is coop actually a coop? ›

The Co-operative Group Limited, trading as Co-op and formerly known as the Co-operative Wholesale Society, is a British consumer co-operative with a group of retail businesses, including grocery retail and wholesale, legal services, funerals and insurance, and social enterprise.

What drove the food co-ops out of business? ›

Most early American co-ops failed due to insufficient capital (money invested by the owners), poor management, and a lack of understanding of the cooperative principles by their members.

Who is the CEO of the Co-op? ›

Shirine Khoury-Haq (born 1971) is a British and Australian businesswoman, and CEO of The Co-operative Group since August 2022. She is the first female chief executive of the business since the Co-op was founded in 1863.

Is co-op gas any good? ›

All of our gasoline is TOP TIERTM certified and, in select markets, our TOP TIERTM certified CO-OP® Premium Diesel is available. The certification is the premium standard endorsed by the world's top automakers and engine manufacturers.

Is Coop an ethical company? ›

Our human rights commitment

In line with this, our 'Sound Sourcing Code of Conduct' sets out the workplace and employment standards that we strenuously apply across our supply base, which is based on the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) Base Code and other core international labour standards.

Is Coop being bought out? ›

Asda has accelerated its takeover into convenience as it opens 11 sites that were formerly Co-op stores. Asda acquired 132 petrol station forecourts from the Co-op last year in a £438m deal in a bid to grow its c-store business and help it fulfil its long-term strategy of becoming the UK's second-largest supermarket.

Is co-op Bank still ethical? ›

Our commitment to co-operative values and ethics has been fundamental to The Co-operative Bank since we were established in 1872. In 1992 we went a step further, becoming the first bank with a customer-led Ethical Policy and this remains as integral today as it always has been.

Why did Coop go to jail? ›

With Preach admitting to shooting Mo — and there being video of the shooting to back him up — it became clear that Coop lied to save him and she was arrested for obstruction of justice. It is the worst-case scenario that Patience (Chelsea Tavares) had been dreading ever since Coop first told the lie.

Is the Coop losing money? ›

The Co-op lost over £30m during the first half of 2023 after its sales were slashed by more than £200m, new figures have revealed. The Manchester-headquartered group slipped to a pre-tax loss of £33m for the six months to July 1, 2023, compared to a profit of £8m in the same period in 2022.

Is Coop good or bad? ›

As mentioned earlier, a co-op work experience can help you gain confidence! During your work experience you will become more comfortable with the workplace and this will give you a better idea of what to expect in the future when looking for another job in the same industry.

Why do co-ops fail? ›

Co-ops may fail because of poor management. Excessive costs, inadequate marketing, lack of attention to customers, etc.

How many co-op grocery stores are in the US? ›

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) is a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States. We represent 164 food co-ops operating over 230 stores in 39 states with combined annual sales over $2.6 billion and serving over 1.3 million consumer-owners.

Where does Coop get their food from? ›

Committed to British produce

Since we began in 1844, we've been sourcing goods from across the UK. Today, we continue to be a major supporter of British farming and home produced foods, trading with almost 2,000 UK farms and over 500 suppliers from across the UK.

Who bought co-op petrol stations? ›

Asda acquired 132 petrol station forecourts from the Co-op last year in a £438m deal in a bid to grow its c-store business and help it fulfil its long-term strategy of becoming the UK's second-largest supermarket.

What gas does BP own? ›

Aral AG is the owner of Aral-branded fuel stations in Germany and Luxembourg. BP America owns most of ARCO's assets and convenience store chain ampm. BP purchased Amoco, the largest oil and natural gas producer in the United States. Thornton operates in conjunction with gas stations in the Midwest.

Is Coop gas top tier? ›

Our gas is Top Tier certified, a premium standard backed by a consortium of automakers. Our gas aids in deposit removal, restores fuel mileage and engine performance while reducing harmful emissions. Regular and mid-grade gasolines are premium blends and may contain up to 10 per cent ethanol (E10).

Is co-op a franchise? ›

Our focus is on high quality Co-op Franchise stores and this means only the very best opportunities will make it through. It has to be the right store in the right location with the right franchisee. Your property will undergo a detailed selection process, with over 2,500 stores we know where Co-op stores work well.

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