A food co-op is a member-owned, member-controlled grocery store that operates for the mutual benefit of all members and according to common principles established for cooperatives. A food co-op provides community members with access to local, all natural, organic, and specialty foods. In turn, local producers gain broader access to the local market. Food cooperatives play an important role in helping to foster the relationship between local producers and community members.
The seven co-op principles are:
1. Open and voluntary membership
Co-ops do not limit—for any social, political, or religious reasons—who may join and become a co-owner of
the co-op. Co-ops are open to anyone who can make use of their services and is willing to accept the
2. Member economic participation
This principle combines many concepts, all based on the idea that co-ops—and their money—are owned
and controlled by their members. Concepts covered:
- Members provide the basic capital (money) to start and operate the co-op.
- If co-ops pay dividends to their member-owners, the rate must be limited. Surplus, or profit, resulting from the operations of the co-op belongs to the members, and they control how it will be distributed.
- If a co-op’s surplus is returned to members, it will be distributed in proportion to the amount of business each member has conducted with the cooperative decision making
3. Democratic member control
All co-op members have equal voting and decision-making power in the governance of the business, on the
basis of one vote per membership.
4. Autonomy and independence
Cooperatives are independent, self-help organizations controlled by their members. They limit the influence of outside agencies or business partners to ensure their independence.
5. Education, training, and information
Co-ops have an obligation and need to educate members about co-ops. This mandate also encompasses educating the general public, young people, and community leaders about the nature and benefits of cooperation.
6. Concern for community
While member needs are their primary concern, cooperatives also work for the sustainable development of their communities.
7. Cooperation among cooperatives
To bring the theory of working together full circle, co-ops recognize the vital importance of working with other co-ops—locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Through these efforts, co-ops try to help each other—to strengthen their economic positions and to contribute to the co-op movement. This principle of “cooperation among co-ops” extends the idea of working together to the organizational level.