Food Buying Groups
The simplest type of food co-op, which is often called a food buying group or buying club, is basically where a group of friends or neighbours club together to buy food from the same supplier at wholesale prices.
Everyone chooses from a list, then all the orders are collated and placed with the supplier by phone or e-mail. The order is delivered to one location, usually someone's house where everyone else comes to pick up their items at a set time.
Buying groups usually work on a pre-order, pre-pay system, with people paying in advance. This could be in cash, via a bank transfer or by cheque (if possible made out to the supplier). Be aware some suppliers may only want one cheque or you may prefer a payment method where someone may have to take on the responsibility of paying for the whole order.
These groups usually buy bulk wholefoods and other products from one of the large wholefood suppliers. Normally members order whole packs of food, e.g. 5kg rice, rather than having to weigh things out. However if foods are pre-packed i.e. in tins or jars then it is not too complicated to split a case. Buying groups usually only meet once a month, or less, as these foods keep a long time so don't need to be ordered on regular basis.
It is not as common to buy fruit and vegetables and other fresh produce via an informal buying group because orders may then need to be weekly rather than monthly. Also, a lot more space may be required to divide up sacks of fruit and vegetables. It is therefore not so convenient to meet at someone's house and may be better to use a community venue instead. Another option would be to get pre-packed bags or boxes delivered to one location where everyone could pick them up.
The main advantages with buying groups are that they are simple to run, there is very little paperwork, and you do not have to handle cash. There are also no real costs involved if you are operating from different members' houses.
The main disadvantage is that these groups generally have to stay quite small to be manageable. Also customers need to be able to pay in advance, one person may need to pay for the whole order or store large quantities of food, which may be more difficult for those on low incomes or in cramped accommodation.