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.)

Resource Organizations

Other Resources

  • 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.

Articles

Recent articles presenting food co-op startup lessons and stories:

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