What is a co-op?

A cooperative (co-op for short) is a private business organization that is owned and controlled by the people who use its products, supplies or services. Although cooperatives vary in type and membership size, all were formed to meet the specific objectives of Members, and are structured to adapt to Member’s changing needs. Cooperatives allow people to get what they want in a way that better meets their economic, social, and cultural needs. Reasons for creating cooperatives include the following:

  • Necessity – Cooperatives help change the marketplace to meet its Members’ needs, providing goods and services that are often more affordable or accessible.
  • Economic Power – By pooling their resources, the cooperative’s Members can create greater economic opportunities.
  • Social Change – Cooperatives help to strengthen a community by creating a new business model that is open to everyone.

From the outside, it may look like any other business but it is what goes on behind the scenes that makes a cooperative different. Rather than rewarding outside investors based on how much stock they own in a business they may never step foot in, a cooperative returns surplus revenue to eligible Members based on how much business they conduct with their cooperative. This approach to business results in a powerful economic force that benefits the cooperative, its Members, and the communities it serves.

For more information about co-ops, we recommend the following sites:

Stronger Together – This informative site was developed by the National Cooperative Grocers.  Three Rivers Market is an active member of the NCG, along with over 143 other food co-ops operating 195 stores in 38 states with combined annual sales of over $1.7 billion and over 1.3 million consumer-owners.  You will find all kinds of information on the Stronger Together site including locations of other food co-ops across the United States, reliable information about food, and recipes.

Cooperative Grocer  – Although primarily related to the daily operations of food co-ops, this site also provides valuable information to the public including the online manual How to Start a Food Co-op. If you are interested in starting a co-op, you will want to download this free resource.

National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International – Three Rivers Market is also a member of the NCBA CLUSA. Their site provides information about all kinds of cooperatives.

University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives – If you are looking for information to foster critical thinking and understanding about cooperatives, this is the place for you! In addition to current studies about cooperatives, you will also find history and how-to guides.

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