Needs assessment

Before you start to develop a food co-op, you need to know if people are likely to use it and if it will suit their needs.

You can find this out by carrying out some sort of needs assessment or market research.

Try to do this 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 that are supplying the type of food you are planning to sell.

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.

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 and what they'd like to buy.

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.

The pages in this section include some of the key areas covered by needs assessments for other food co-ops around the UK, in particular this is based on the work of Greenwich Community Food Co-op and Westminster Primary Care Trust.

Case study - Greenwich Community Food Co-op
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.

Case Study - Westminster Primary Care Trust
Westminster Primary Care Trust (PCT) carried out a comprehensive needs assessment at the same time as analysing the effectiveness of its food co-ops in the North Paddington area. It took a broad look at access to healthy food in North Westminster and what influences people to buy and eat fruit and vegetables. It aimed to make suggestions for a project that could increase consumption. The project had a strong health focus and also needed to prove that public money would be spent wisely. Westminster PCT identified geographic areas where people would be in the greatest need, on the basis of estimated obesity prevalence rates and the estimated level of fruit and vegetable consumption in those areas. It then studied the availability and access to fruit and vegetables in these areas of highest need. The report that Westminster PCT drew up was very detailed and produced a list of options for projects to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables, which included running food co-ops, working with established local businesses or setting up a mobile food project.


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