Sustain Good Food Enterprises Food Co-ops toolkit

Does your community need a food co-op?

Carrying out some sort of needs assessment or market research at the outset lets you understand whether people are likely to buy from your food co-op, what prices people are willing or able to pay and whether the products you plan to sell will suit their needs. This is a great way to develop your ideas and to create a successful foundation to launch your food co-op.

How to do it 

Before carrying out a needs assessment you need to consider various questions:

  • What do you want to find out?
  • Who is the information for? Just for your own planning, or will it also be used for a funding application? If so, then will the needs assessment answer the types of questions your funder might ask?
  • How can you express your questions in plain language that people will understand and respond to?
  • What specific questions will you ask, and will the answers really tell you what you want to know?
  • How will you gather the information?
  • Who is going to do the research? How much can you do yourselves and with which parts do you need help?
  • Where are you going to do the survey, or find information?
  • How much is it all going to cost? Draw up a budget.
  • How much time have you got and when does it need to done by? Draw up a timetable.

Try to do the assessment early in the planning process before you have invested a lot of time and effort because you may find out that people want something different from what you expect. For example, there may already be other outlets supplying the type of food you are planning to sell.

Alternatively, if you are setting up a very small food co-op, then your needs assessment may simply involve asking a few questions of friends and neighbours to find out if they'd be interested in shopping at a food co-op, what they'd like to buy and how much they'd be willing to pay. Another cheap and simple way to conduct a needs assessment is to develop a survey using a tool such as SurveyMonkey, Google Forms or Typeform and send it out via email, social media, etc.

Whatever size or type of food co-op you are planning, doing some sort of research is highly recommended. However, the approach you take will vary according to what you are aiming to achieve, and what funding and resources you have. Some needs assessments take a lot of time and money that not all projects can afford. Often these are carried out by local primary care trusts or councils and aim to assess the overall health needs in a local area.

Example from Greenwich Community Food Co-op: Royal Borough of Greenwich Food Poverty Needs Assessment
Greenwich Community Food Co-op has been using a well-developed community needs assessment process for several years.The community needs assessment process was developed in association with the Healthy Greenwich Network Community Food Initiatives Project run by Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency and Greenwich Teaching Primary Care Trust. The research is carried out by field workers or volunteers and grouped into three main stages: reviewing local statistics;community audit and a questionnaire. The resulting report uses the research data to identify opportunities, need and interest in establishing health projects in Greenwich.

To find more useful food co-op related information visit our homepage

Food Co-ops toolkit: The Food Co-ops Toolkit will give you all the information you need to set up your own food co-op.

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