About food co-ops
The main principle behind all community run food co-ops is that by pooling their buying power and ordering food in bulk direct from suppliers, a group of people can buy good food at a more affordable price.
Food co-ops, food buying groups, food clubs and food groups are terms that are used interchangeably to describe a food outlet that is run on a not-for-profit basis to give people access to good food at affordable prices. We have used the term ‘co-op’ because it implies co-operation which is all about people working together to achieve something they couldn’t do on their own.
Food co-ops can include bag or box schemes, informal groups purchasing produce in bulk to get discounts, fruit and veg stalls, food assemblies, mobile stores or a combination of these.
It is worth noting that although the term food co-op is commonly used, you will need to have a formal membership structure to be officially deemed a ‘co-operative’. See Co-operatives UK for further information.
Small food co-ops or buying groups work by collecting together everyone’s orders in advance, whereas other models operate more like other food businesses in that they order the produce from suppliers and then sell it to their customers via stalls, bag or box schemes, mobile stores, shops or other types of outlet.
The main things community food co-ops have in common are they:
- are run by the community for the community
- aim to supply produce at affordable prices
- are run on a not for profit basis
- generally rely on the support of volunteers, either in the day-to day running or on the committee
However, that is where the similarity ends, as every food co-op is unique, and the way it runs will depend on the community it serves and the people who run it. Food co-ops can differ in almost every way including:
- What they sell e.g. a lot of food co-ops sell fruit and vegetables, whereas others focus on organic wholefoods and some also sell a eggs, meat, dairy produce or other foods.
- When they sell it e.g. many food co-ops only run one day a week, some meet once a month, and others are open every day.
- How they sell it e.g. some sell their produce loose on stalls, whereas other sell it pre-packed in bags or boxes.
- Where they sell it e.g. food co-ops run it a wide range of locations e.g. schools, community centres, church halls or even have their own shops.