What is a Co-op?

A cooperative is a business that is formed and owned by the people it serves. Bloomingfoods is a consumer co-op, meaning that it was started by the customers who shop in the store and nearly 35 years later is still owned by the people who shop in the store. Other examples of co-ops include agricultural co-ops, credit unions like IU Credit Union, housing co-ops, electric co-ops like REMC, and producer co-ops like Organic Valley. Ranging from small-scale to multi-million dollar businesses across the globe, co-operatives employ more than 100 million women and men and have more than 800 million individual members.

The Cooperative Values

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

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. Most 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.

Most grocery store co-ops are consumer cooperatives, which means that they are owned by the people who shop at the stores. Members exercise their ownership by patronizing the store and voting in elections. The members elect a board of directors to hire, guide and evaluate the general manager who runs day to day operations.

All co-ops contain the following elements:

  • Co-ops are owned and governed by their primary users (the member-owners).
  • Co-ops are democratically governed (one-member, one-vote).
  • Co-ops are businesses, not clubs or associations.
  • Co-ops adhere to internationally recognized principles.

Consumer cooperatives are very different from privately owned "discount clubs," which charge annual fees in exchange for a discount on purchases. The "club" is not owned or governed by the members and the profits of the business go to the investors, not to members. In a cooperative, the members own the business and the profits belong to the community of members.

The specific goals of a cooperative are determined by its members, but all cooperatives adhere to the principles of cooperation that are based on practices of the first successful consumer cooperative, The Rochdale Pioneers Equitable Society , in Rochdale, England (founded in 1844). There are consumer, producer co-ops (usually agricultural) and worker-owned cooperatives. There are also housing co-ops, health care co-ops (the original HMOs were co-ops) and financial co-ops (credit unions). The overall goal of the cooperative movement is to create organizations that serve the needs of the people who use them. Cooperative businesses provide goods and services in a way that keeps community resources in the community.

13 Rochdale Pioneers
The Rochdale Pioneers founded the first successful consumer cooperative in 1884.