How to Start a Food Co-op
Overview and reports on recent startups
Today there are over 200 food co-op startup groups across the U.S. – more than there have been since the 1970s – and in recent times ten or more new co-op stores have opened each year. These organizing efforts are extremely diverse in their aims and methods and circumstances – there is no one size that fits all.
What timeline to expect? Here is a summary by Stuart Reid of Food Co-op Initiative from a 2012 listserve discussion:
" 'Typical' is 2-5 years. The extremes are from less than a year to over 10…. I think you are right in identifying capital as a potential speed bump. (Has the buying club operation been set up to build capital for this contingency?) Other tasks that can be time consuming include rewriting the by-laws and membership policies, getting a professional market study & site analysis, creating a start-up budget and operating pro formas, (take a breath) putting all of that together into a business plan, recruiting members and/or a capital campaign to increase member investment, planning and conducting a member loan campaign, obtaining commitments from a bank or other source of long-term debt, negotiating a lease or purchase, renovations, planning and ordering equipment, fixtures and inventory, hiring a GM and staff – plus a few other things.
“Can you take short cuts and get it done in 6 months? Sure. But if you want a retail store that looks good, provides meaningful returns to the owners and community and has the financial and organizational strength to survive and flourish... it takes time.”
Publication: How to Start a Food Co-op
The best single introductory publication for these groups is the booklet How to Start a Food Co-op. (This publication will be revised in late 2012 in order to be more consistent with the resources in the following listing.)
- Food Co-op Initiative (FCI)
Startup food co-op groups that have not already done so should contact Food Co-op Initiative ([email protected], 507-664-2034). FCI is a nonprofit foundation supported by established co-ops, focused on providing startup groups with advice, referrals, and access to resources. FCI also contributes a regular column in Cooperative Grocer magazine.
- California Center for Cooperative Development
Promotes cooperatives as a vibrant business model to address the economic and social needs of California’s communities.
- National Cooperative Business Association
NCBA is the lead national membership association for all co-ops in all sectors of the economy. Our mission is to develop, advance and protect cooperative enterprise.
- CDS Consulting Co-op
CDS Consulting Co-op is dedicated to building and strengthening cooperative businesses by providing consulting, training and development services. CDS is a network of independent consulting professionals experienced in developing food cooperatives. CDS consultants specialize in working with food cooperatives to achieve growth, increase profitability, improve board leadership, strengthen management, and fully serve their members and community.
- Cooperative Development Services Consulting Co-op (CDSCC) startup webinars
Over the past few years a series of 20 free webinars for startup food co-op has been developed by Cooperative Development Services and CDS Consulting Co-op, and these webinars are available free: http://cdsconsulting.centraldesktop.com/cbld/doc/5469096/w-Fc500WebinarArchives.
- Four Cornerstones in 3 Stages
CDS Consulting Co-op trainers and consultants have developed a framework for startups. The cornerstones of vision, talent, capital, and systems are each needed within three stages of food co-op development: organizing, feasibility and planning, and implementation. Established and startup co-ops have developed in-depth resources and professional experience in support of new co-ops. No matter what its local circumstances, a startup food co-op effort can benefit from decades of experience in community-based enterprise and professional development among established food co-ops and their allies.
Recent articles presenting food co-op startup lessons and stories:
- Startup Technology Choices: Co-ops don’t live in a one-size-fits-all world by Jake Schlachter, May-June 2012
- Learning from Co-op Startups by Patricia Cumbie, summarizes startup challenges and resources from the perspective of leading co-op developers and trainers
- Making Groceries with the New Orleans Food Co-op by Lori Burge, celebrated the launching of that co-op, January 2012
- Kitsap = Community: Annual fair boosts co-op startup and farm preservation by Kristina Kruzan, is from a co-op still in formation, January 2012
- Harrisonburg’s Friendly New Neighbor by Ben Sandel, describes a Virginia co-op that opened in June 2011
- From the Mouths of Babes: CoFED spreads the cooperative spirit to the next generation by Ava Churchill, describes the launching of a campus-based federation of startup food co-ops. Find current activities by CoFed at www.cofed.org.
- See also the summary article by Stuart Reid, "Why New Co-ops Fail," in the November-December 2012 issue of Cooperative Grocer magazine.