Saturday, January 12, 2008

How to Start a Bulk Buying Food Co-operative

Save money on your grocery bill while working to mobilise your community!

Everyone wants to provide their family with nutritious and well rounded foods, but with the low wages and rising prices working people face in this country, that is not always possible. Locally grown organic produce is too often only sold in specialty markets catering to the wealthy.

But there is a way to improve your families’ diet while cutting down on your grocery bill at the same time: start a bulk buying food cooperative!

A cooperative is a form of business, but one that is owned and operated by its membership. A coop can be as small as a handful of people or a major enterprise of tens of thousands.
Most coops follow seven main principles: 1. Open, voluntary membership. 2. Democratic member control. 3. Limited return on investment. 4. Any surplus belongs to the membership. 5. Belief in education of members and the community on cooperative principles. 6. Cooperation among co-ops. 7. Concern for the community.

With a bulk buying coop, the members pool their time and money to buy directly from farmers or wholesalers. The savings comes because unlike buying as an individual family, where you buy small, prepackaged items and pay the price set by the store, the coop is able to buy large quantities and get a big discount. As the volume goes up, the per unit cost goes down - a 50 pound sack of rice is much cheaper than fifty 1 pound bags of rice. The coop members then divide up the purchased items amongst themselves and share in the savings.

A bulk food buying coop should start simple, with a few families buying roughly equal amounts of the same basic foodstuffs, such as rice, beans, potatoes, flour, cheese, etc. - many wholesalers have their catalogs online or can be ordered. The startup costs are fairly low, depending on the minimum order required by the wholesalers the coop chooses to dealing with. If the wholesaler does not deliver, the coop will need a vehicle to pick up the food - either borrowed from one of the members or rented for the day. While eventually the coop may rent or buy a permanent location, such as a storefront, many churches, mosques, or community centres have rooms that can be used for free when it is time to divide up the food. Even a member’s garage or front lawn will do!

The first step is to talk to your friends and neighbours - show them this article. See what they think and figure out what are your common needs. It’s time for our communities to come together and coops are one way to start!