FOOD ISSUES: Food Co-ops-- the reasons for setting one up and how to do it

How to set up your own local food co-op:

Food co-ops are a way of buying fresh, locally grown food for less money. Sustain have produced an online resource, 'the Food Co-ops Toolkit', that explains how to start one up

Local food-buying cooperatives, or food co-ops, are becoming more popular as communities opt out of supermarket shopping in favour of more affordable alternatives to buying fresh produce.

The main principle behind community food co-ops is that by ordering food in bulk direct from suppliers, groups of people can buy their fresh, locally grown food cheaper. These food cooperatives usually take the shape of retail stores or buying clubs, and are predominately worker or customer owned businesses.

There's nothing new about the concept. The 1970s saw a boom in food co-ops due to the growing health foods movement and concerns about poor quality processed foods. In recent years many community-based food co-ops have also been set up to make it easier for people on low incomes, or those living in areas with few shops, to access more affordable fruit and vegetables.

More and more communities are setting up food co-ops so they can get good food at an affordable price and have more control over where their food comes from.

Co-operation is all about two or more people joining forces and working together to achieve something they probably couldn't do on their own.
In the case of food co-ops a group of people join forces in order to be able to buy foods they may otherwise find it hard to get hold of at a price they can afford. By volunteering their time and pooling their buying power they can get produce direct from local farmers or wholesalers.

This toolkit has been produced as part of the Big Lottery funded Making Local Food Work programme to help more communities set up their own food co-ops and buying groups.To find more about food co-ops you can visit

What do Food Co-ops sell?

Most food cooperatives sell fruit and veg, which can be expensive enough. However, many food co-ops are set up in order to sell products such as organic foods, Fairtrade foods or locally sourced foods. These can be notoriously more expensive, despite the fact that we are aware of the benefits. A food co-op means that these products can be bought en-mass with bulk buying power and make them more realistically priced whilst benefitting your health or the health and well-being of others.
The Benefits of a Food Co-operative

increases access to healthy foods for those who otherwise may not have access to it (either because of cost or transport issues); raises awareness of health benefits; the confidence and sense of purpose of those who volunteer to run the scheme are often improved.
increases the supply of local produce; reduces the amount of people travelling long distances to shop; less packaging and therefore less waste.
Economic :
supports local farmers, retailers or (through fairtrade) ethically supported projects; offers volunteers new skills (and may even get them into employment).