Larry Light raised a not-so-novel idea when he suggested Amazon/Whole Foods could one day develop local food co-ops in his Dec. 10 column, which asked, “Is a Whole Foods Co-op in Your Future?”
An Amazon/Whole Foods Co-op is unlikely for a variety of reasons: first and foremost, because corporations are beholden to their shareholders and their primary purpose is to maximize profits.
On the other hand, food co-ops are grocery stores that are locally owned by the people who shop there. So instead of focusing on Wall Street investors, they can focus on what their community wants—nourishing everyone according to their budget and cooking style. When people shop at their local food co-op, more of the money they spend goes back into the local community, supporting a robust local economy. Profits in investor-owned corporations serve to enrich their shareholders.
As with some membership organizations, the owners of co-ops may receive financial rewards like discounts and coupons. However, at co-ops, owners get more. They may share in the profits through patronage dividends, they have a voice in the direction of the co-op by voting for their local board of directors, and they can even run for a seat on the board. I don’t think this option is going to be open to Prime members anytime soon.
I couldn’t agree more with Mr. Light that most people experience some tension between their desire for individuality and authentic community—it is the precise reason people work together to open food co-ops and the reason we are successful in many markets to this day. As democratic organizations based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, equality, equity and solidarity, the cooperative business model offers everyone a voice, a choice and a community.
The good news is that there are already hundreds of food co-ops operating in communities across the U.S. National Co+op Grocers (NCG) represents 148 co-ops operating 200+ retail locations. Each of these co-ops is and always will be independently owned and operated. Most have been serving their communities for decades, offering plenty of fresh, delicious local and organic food in a warm and welcoming environment with knowledgeable and friendly staff.
Chances are there’s already a food co-op near you, and its doors are wide open. So, while an Amazon/Whole Foods Co-op may not be in your future, a true community-owned food co-op could very well be in your present. Find a co-op near you at www.welcometothetable.coop/all-coops.
—C. E. Pugh is CEO of National Co+op Grocers.