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? Realistically, a group should expect embarking on a project that will take three to five years and needing to raise more than a million dollars in member equity and loans. But the rewards are many. Cooperative enterprises build a better community and a better world.Here is a summary by Stuart Reid of Food Co-op Initiative from a (Feb. 6, 2012) listserv 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.”
Food Co-op Initiative (FCI): Startup food co-op groups that have not already done so should contact Food Co-op Initiative http://www.foodcoopinitiative.coop. Email can be sent to: [email protected]. The FCI phone number is 507-664-2034.
FCI is a non-profit 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, and some of those reports are linked below under Related Content. Find additional reports in more recent issues of the publication.
How to Start a Food Co-op manual: The best single introductory publication for these groups is the booklet “How to Start a Food Co-op,” updated in 2012 and available from the Cooperative Grocer Network by a free download at the link provided below under Related Documents. (This publication will be revised in 2015 in order to be more consistent with the resources in the following listing.)
CDS 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.
Four Cornerstones: CDS Consulting Co-op trainers and consultants have developed a framework for startups comprising “Four Cornerstones in 3 Stages”: 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.
As indicated above, 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.
For Midwest Co-ops, the Up and Coming Up and Running conference is a great opportunity to learn in person and network with other start up co-ops. Read about 2014's conference in Cooperative Grocer Magazine.
Following are recent articles presenting food co-op startup lessons and stories -- each one is linked below under Related Content:
"Startup Technology Choices: Co-ops don't live in a one-size-fits-all world," by Jake Schlachter, writing in the May-June 2012 Cooperative Grocer.
"Learning from Co-op Startups," by Patricia Cumbie, summarizes startup challenges and resources from the perspective of leading co-op developers and trainers.
"Makin' Groceries with the New Orleans Food Co-op," by Lori Burge, appeared in Cooperative Grocer in early 2012 and celebrated the launching of that co-op.
"Kitsap = Community: Annual fair boosts co-op startup and farm preservation," by Kristina Kruzan, is from a co-op still in formation and appeared in Cooperative Grocer in early 2012.
"Harrison'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. For current activities by CoFED, visit them at: http://www.cofed.org.
An excellent summary, "Why (Some) New Co-ops Fail," by Stuart Reid, was published in Cooperative Grocer in late 2012, and also is linked below under Related Content.