Generally community food co-ops and buying groups can be categorised as enterprises that are run by the community for the community, on a not for profit basis, supplying produce at affordable prices and relying 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, buying group or community food enterprise is unique, and the way they run will depend on the community they serve and the people who run it. Food co-ops can differ in almost every way including:
What they sell - A lot of food co-ops sell fruit and vegetables, whereas others focus on organic wholefoods and some also sell eggs, meat, dairy produce or other foods.
When they're open - Many food co-ops only run one day a week, some meet once a month, and others are open every day.
How they sell - Food co-ops can operate as veg bag or box schemes, fruit and veg stalls, informal groups purchasing dried wholefoods in bulk to get discounts, shops, markets, food hubs or frequently a combination of more than one of these.
Where they sell - Food co-ops operate in a wide range of locations e.g. schools, community centres, church halls or some even have their own shops.
Other types of co-ops
Co-operatives can be categorised in more than one way, so it can be a little confusing at first. They can be defined according to their ownership structure and primary members, to the product or service the co-op offers, or to the activity they are engaged in.
Therefore the term food co-operative is used to describe any co-operative business that is involved in the production or supply of food. These may include:
- Worker co-operatives - in which the members are the workers. These are businesses that are owned and controlled on a democratic basis by their employees. Many wholefood wholesalers and wholefood shops are run as workers co-operatives
- Producer co-operatives - which are owned and controlled by farmers. These can be involved in producing, processing or marketing agricultural products; they might also supply agricultural inputs and services to their members.
- Consumer co-operatives - in which the primary members are the co-operatives' customers. These types of co-operative can provide a variety of goods or services and can range from small groups of friends to large chains of retails outlets.
Our website and toolkit focuses on community-run food co-ops that operate on a not-for-profit basis. These are often set up as consumer co-operatives but may also run on a more informal basis.
If you are interested in setting up another type of co-operative you can get more advice from Co-operatives UK.