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Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities

What’s to love about food co-ops? So much! Co-ops have a cool way of doing things differently. They’re people working together for better food, stronger communities and a healthier world. And cooperative grocers are making a big impact. A new study, Healthy Foods Healthy Communities: The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops,* quantifies the impact food co-ops have as compared to conventional grocery stores. The study’s compelling results demonstrate the many ways that food co-ops do well while doing good.

Unlike their conventional counterparts, co-ops are owned and governed by member-shoppers and rooted in principles like community, voluntary and open membership, economic participation and cooperation. Because of these principles and practices, food co-ops inherently serve and benefit the communities where they are located. For example, the study finds that for every dollar spent at a food co-op, $0.38 is reinvested in the local economy compared to $0.24 at conventional grocers. 

Supporting Local Food Systems and Sustainable Foods

Though “local” has popped up in conventional grocery stores in recent years, retail food co-ops are leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. Where conventional grocers work with an average of 65 local farmers and food producers, food co-ops work with an average of 157. Likewise, locally sourced products make up an average of 20 percent of co-op sales compared to 6 percent at conventional stores.

Years after creating the market for organic foods, co-ops are still the place to find them. Of produce sales at food co-ops, 82 percent are organic, compared to 12 percent for conventional grocers. And, organics make up 48 percent of grocery sales in food co-ops, compared to just 2 percent in conventional grocers. 

Local Economic Impact

The economic impact that a grocery store has on its local economy is greater than just the sum of its local spending, because a portion of money spent locally recirculates. For example, food co-ops purchase from local farmers who, in turn, buy supplies from local sources, hire local technicians to repair equipment, and purchase goods and services from local retailers. To some extent, conventional grocers do too, but the gap is still significant. For every $1,000 a shopper spends at their local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy—$239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.

Employee Benefits

The average co-op earning $10 million per year in revenue provides jobs for over 90 workers. In total, 68 percent of those workers are eligible for health insurance, compared to 56 percent of employees at conventional grocers. Co-op employees also earn an average of nearly $1.00 more per hour than conventional grocery workers when bonuses and profit sharing are taken into account. 

Environmental Stewardship

Grocery stores—co-ops and conventional alike—generate a significant amount of waste. What sets retail food co-ops apart is what they do with that waste. Co-ops recycle 96 percent of cardboard, 74 percent of food waste and 81 percent of plastics compared to 91 percent, 36 percent and 29 percent, respectively, recycled by conventional grocers.

* The study behind this report was commissioned by National Co+op Grocers (NCG), the organization of grocery cooperatives that brings you this site. NCG partnered with the ICA Group—a national not-for-profit consulting firm with expertise in cooperatives, economic development, and business research.



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14 Responses to “Healthy Foods, Healthy Communities”

  1. David Olson August 6, 2012 8:53 am #

    I'm pretty grateful to get to work with these folks.

  2. Ashland Food Co-op August 6, 2012 2:07 pm #

    Yay us! Here's proof of what we've always known. Nice!

    • Caminos August 9, 2012 10:21 am #


  3. Anne Pierce August 7, 2012 5:12 am #

    Love shopping at coops! Love Betsy who's produce manager at Oneota Food Coop in Decorah!

  4. Angelica Driver August 7, 2012 10:48 am #

    First of all, I'd like to say I'm really proud and happy of the great things co-ops do for our communities, and I'm proud to support them whenever I can. I think they are an amazing vehicle for sorely-needed change. In that light, however, I would be remiss if I did not mention one thing that has always disturbed me a little about the racial make-up of most co-op shoppers. I know it's not like this at every co-op, but most of the shoppers I've seen are caucasian. This does not make me personally uncomfortable as a person of color, but I think it's important to realize that there is a disparity in healthy eating habits between black and white, and food co-ops could be in a unique position to rectify this. I do not intend this comment to criticize, merely to prod. Co-ops are about community, but are they a true representation of their communities if they are people who are from just one or two racial/ethnic groups? I know a part of it has to do with income, especially for me. I'd love it if I made enough money to buy all the food for myself and my family at our local co-op, but even with a home garden it's not really possible and I have to make compromises I don't like to have to make about the quality and purity of our food. Is there anybody out there who has explored this and made strides with it? I would love to have an example to take to my community and get to work!

    • Co-Op Market August 9, 2012 12:21 am #

      We are developing our food Co-op and plan to open this winter. I'm very happy with the diversity among our group although yes, the percentage of people of color is lower. How do we reach out to include more diverse groups?

  5. Steve Rio August 7, 2012 12:36 pm #

    Awesome video!

  6. Steve Rio August 7, 2012 3:27 pm #

    I've shared this multiple times.. it's so great!

  7. The Co-operative Food August 10, 2012 6:59 am #

    Hi from The Co-operative Food in the UK and happy IYC :)

  8. GreenStar Natural Foods Market August 12, 2012 10:48 am #

    GreenStar is proud to be part the growing cooperative movement. Why do like to shop your co-op?

  9. Kaj Embren August 16, 2012 2:33 pm #

    An increasing number of people, myself included, are demanding more from what we eat. The availability of eco-friendly, organic products has visibly improved in recent years, as people take a greater interest in what they consume and how it impacts the world around them. Nonetheless, on a recent visit to my local store I found that it is still incredibly difficult to find eco-labeled organic chickens.

    Anyone who believes that organic poultry is an unnecessary luxury may wish to read an article the New York Times Arsenic in Our Chicken? that discusses the cocktail of substances, from caffeine to antibiotics, fed to factory-farmed chickens in the US. Aside from ruining my appetite, the findings fueled my mistrust of agriculture, the food industry and the processes that prepare food for our dinner tables.

    This is not just a problem for consumers in America. The use of antibiotics and additives in the food production cycle is a major global issue. Regardless of where in the world you live, food producers will use shortcuts to boost profits. In the words of Gunnar Rundgren, the Swedish pioneer of the organic product organisation KRAV ( Interview in the Swedish Environmental Newspaper – Miljöaktuellt): “As long as it pays to farm chickens in units of two million or to spray agricultural land with a variety of toxins, then that is what farms will do.”.

    This is not sustainable development.

    It is time for both agriculture and the food industry to accelerate a move towards a more sustainable society. A society in which producers work together with consumers to incorporate economic, social and ecological values into their business strategies.
    The importance of sustainable food production reaches far beyond the dinner table. It feeds into a complex system of global justice and consumption patterns. It also ties in with climate change, as fossil fuels are used in connection with transportation, heating and fertilizer production.

    Read more about co-ops and this story at

  10. The Grain Mill of Wake Forest December 1, 2014 11:53 am #

    We are implementing our co-op in a food desert area for this very reason. Quality, affordable food should be available for all.

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