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Why retail food co-ops are good for local communities and economies – and make healthy food more affordable

The 2020 Food Co-op Impact Report, from US-based National Co+op Grocers (NCG) offers compelling insights into how retail food co-ops support local communities and economies, create markets for local farmers and producers, and make healthy food affordable for more people and care for people and the planet.

Building local food systems
According to report findings, the average food co-op purchases from 185 local farmers and producers, whose products contribute 22% of the co-op’s sales. While co-ops have long been recognized for their support of local food, the report highlights how this approach was put to the test during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, many grocers that rely primarily on national supply chains were unable to keep their shelves stocked.

In contrast, many food co-ops were able to keep foods like meat, produce, eggs, and milk on the shelf because of strong relationships with local farmers. In fact, in many states, food co-ops boosted local food inventories to ensure farmers had a market for product that would otherwise have been lost due to restaurants closing.

Making food more affordable
The report also highlights the strength of cooperation when it comes to food affordability. Through NCG, food co-ops combine purchasing power on national brands to offer shoppers lower prices and a broader range of products so they have more choices that fit their budget and cooking style. Co-ops’ popular Co+op Deals promotion program, for example, saves customers an average of 25% on a selection of more than 2000 items on sale each month.

Recognizing that today’s economy is out of balance and many are struggling to meet basic needs, food co-ops are shown to be effective at lowering barriers to healthy food. Three out of four co-ops nationwide now offer a needs-based discount programme—and that number has been growing consistently since 2016.

Caring for each other and the planet
As community-owned grocery stores, food co-ops are committed to collaborating with their community to make positive change. In addition to collectively donating over $7.3 million dollars to community organizations locally in 2020, NCG is also investing in national organizations working to build a more just and equitable food system. The report outlines how food co-ops are prioritizing racial equity, including the launch of a supplier diversity program through NCG.

Image: National Co+op Grocers/SPINS

Food co-ops also perform strongly when it comes to products that are better for people and environment—leading the way in sales of organic, fair trade, B Corp and cooperatively produced products. For example, 47% of food co-op sales come from organic products, compared with 32% at other natural grocery stores and just 3% at conventional grocers.

While food co-ops work individually to reduce their carbon footprint, they also collaborate through NCG to reduce the negative environmental impact of their supply chain. Since 2012, food co-ops have been working with fair trade farmer co-ops in Peru to offset a portion of greenhouse gas emissions associated with annual business travel by planting and protecting trees in the Peruvian Amazon. The program – known as Co+op Forest – has helped plant and/or protect more than 1.8 million trees.

About NCG
National Co+op Grocers (NCG), founded in 1999, is a business services cooperative for retail food co-ops located throughout the United States. NCG helps unify food co-ops in order to optimize operational and marketing resources, strengthen purchasing power and ultimately offer more value to food co-op owners and shoppers everywhere. Our 147 member co-ops operate more than 200 stores in 38 states with combined annual sales over $2.3 billion. NCG is a winner of the dotCoop Global Awards for Cooperative Excellence and a Certified B Corporation. To learn more about co-ops, visit www.welcometothetable.coop.

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