How to Start a Food Co-op Manual

How to Start a Food Co-op, updated 2010 (1.3 MB)

Starting a food co-op takes a lot of work. Realistically, you will be embarking on a project that will take three to five years and you will need 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.

Groups interested in starting a new co-op are strongly encouraged to check out CGN's amazing strategic partners Food Co-op Initiative, a nonprofit started in 2005 to specifically support and counsel start-up food cooperatives, and CDS Consulting Co-op, a cooperative food co-op consultants.  They have a growing track record of helping start successful food co-ops.

Below you can download a PDF of a free manual that provides an overview of the basic steps and procedures. The manual is not an exhaustive or comprehensive reference document and it is continually being updated, but it's a darn good introduction.

And, of course, once you get started and incorporated, joining CGN will be your next wise step!

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Starting a co-op is a challenging and immensely rewarding activity. It will require research, careful planning, patience, and uncounted hours of time from you and your members. The co-op may not turn out exactly as it was originally conceptualized. It will inevitably take longer than you wish it would to get started. But when you invest the time and hard work to start a co-op, you will realize abundant benefits. You will learn about business and develop new skills. You will learn how to run productive meetings. Your co-op will provide jobs and meet daily needs in your community. Most rewarding of all, you will become a co-owner, with many others, of a dynamic and valuable business. 

Good luck!

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How to Start a Food Co-op

adapted from the original by

Patricia Cumbie and Margaret J. Goldstein

Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network

Copyright © 2010 by the Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network

All rights reserved. International copyright secured. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.

Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network
2600 E Franklin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55406
612.436.9166

Funding for this project was generously provided by:

Howard Bowers Fund for Consumer Cooperatives 
Twin Pines Cooperative Foundation
Cooperative Grocer magazine
The Cooperative Foundation
CGN members