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Considering Grocery Co-ops


Recently, a family member came to visit and ran to a grocery store for a few items. The Eastside Co-op is our nearest grocery store, so when she returned with groceries from a market farther away, I asked, "Why didn't you just run to the co-op?" She responded, "Well, I wasn't sure whether I could shop there. Don't you have to be a member?"

It dawned on me that the concept of the co-op might not be familiar to everyone, and that is why I'm blogging about it today.

What is a co-op?

According to the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA): "Cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their members according to common principles agreed upon by the international cooperative community. In co-ops, members pool resources to bring about economic results that are unobtainable by one person alone."

More simply put, a cooperative is a business voluntarily owned by the people who use it, and operated for the benefit of its members. Regardless of the goods and services provided, co-ops aim to meet their members' needs.

In addition to a co-op's commitment to serving its members, most adhere to a set of seven principles to help guide the business. The seven principals are:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

Why join?

Many grocery co-ops make a commitment to environmental and social responsibility. You can voice your opinion about issues that are important to you, whether it's prices, practices, or a special product that you'd like to have stocked. Also, since they don't have outside investors to reward, co-ops return surplus revenue to their members in proportion to the purchases they've made. While you don't need to be a member to shop at most grocery co-ops, members usually enjoy special opportunities and discounts that are not available to non-members.

Why we joined:

We shopped at the co-op for awhile before we became members to see if it worked for us. Eventually, it made sense financially to become members, since most of our grocery money was being spent at the co-op. We wanted to support a business that was stocking fresh, local products from local producers. We wanted to support a business with a strong commitment to green practices. We liked how shopping at the co-op was a friendly and educational experience for us and our community—we've learned a lot about sustainable practices from the co-op. We wanted the member discounts and to be on the inside track of what was happening at the co-op in terms of member offers and opportunities.

Find a co-op near you:

To find the co-op that works best for you, you might need to do a bit of research and shop there a couple times before you join. There are 12 businesses that run as grocery co-ops in the Twin Cities. They are community- and member-owned grocery stores that connect residents with food from small, local producers, as well as other healthy options for eating and personal care. Check out The Mix for more information on the co-ops in the Twin Cities. Outside of the Twin Cities, you can consult the Co-op Directory Service for information on co-ops in your area.

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Minnesota Monthly's Taste Blog answers your restaurant and dining questions, dishes on latest discoveries, reflects on breaking news, and generally brings the plate to the page with a skilled crew of experts: Learn more about the Taste bloggers.

Have a food-related question? Email rhutton@mnmo.com

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