Food buying clubs & co-ops

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Health Factors  
Date last updated

Food buying clubs and co-ops offer group purchase and distribution of selected grocery items, generally at a reduced price. Food cooperatives typically function either as pre-order buying clubs or as retail cooperative food stores. Retail food co-ops are typically worker- or customer-owned businesses that often sell produce grown by local family farms1.   

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced food costs

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased access to healthy food

  • Increased food security

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness?

USDA-affiliated experts indicate that buying clubs and co-ops can reduce food costs2. A number of case studies also suggest that buying clubs and co-ops can have positive effects on food purchases345. Buying clubs and co-ops may increase healthy food access, choices, and food security for low income families6. Overall, however, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects. 

Food buying clubs and co-ops may increase availability and consumption of fresh produce, especially seasonal, local produce, which may reduce emissions from fossil fuels used to produce, process, and transport food7, 89. Buying clubs and co-ops may also reduce the energy intensity of an individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products7

How could this strategy impact health disparities? This strategy is rated no impact on disparities likely.
Implementation Examples

Food buying clubs and co-ops exist throughout the country; the Coop Directory Service has a listing of co-ops and buying clubs in all 50 states10 and the National Cooperative Grocers Association represents over 200 retail food cooperative stores in 39 states11. The Healthy Food Access Portal lists strategies and resources for development of co-ops1.

Retail food co-ops can be established to provide a full service grocery store as a community-owned asset in a rural or urban food desert, in addition to offering organic and natural food choices for community members with low incomes; examples include East End Food Co-op in Pittsburgh, PA; Hendersonville Coop in Hendersonville, NC; Mandela Foods in Oakland, CA, and Mariposa Food Cooperative in Philadelphia, PA12.

Implementation Resources

PolicyLink-HFAP coops - PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), The Food Trust. Healthy food access portal (HFAP): Grocery stores & co-ops.

FCI-Food co-op resources - Food Co-Op Initiative (FCI). New co-ops start here: Resource library.

ISU-Food and sustainability resources - Iowa State University (ISU), Sustainable Food Processing Alliance. Online resources for food and sustainability.


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1 PolicyLink-HFAP coops - PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), The Food Trust. Healthy food access portal (HFAP): Grocery stores & co-ops.

2 Kantor 2001 - Kantor LS. Community food security programs improve food access. Food Review. 2001;24(1):20-6.

3 Little 2010 - Little R, Maye D, Ilbery B. Collective purchase: Moving local and organic foods beyond the niche market. Environment and Planning A. 2010;42(8):1797-813.

4 Carroll 2011 - Carroll JD, Demment MM, Stiles SB, et al. Overcoming barriers to vegetable consumption by preschool children: A child care center buying club. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2011;6(2):153-65.

5 Shuman 2009 - Shuman M, Barron A, Wasserman W. Community food enterprise: Local success in a global marketplace. Arlington: Wallace Center at Winrock International; 2009.

6 Morales 2014 - Morales A, Loker A. Welcome to the club! Rural Cooperatives. 2014;81(1):24-28,38.

7 Ringling 2020 - Ringling KM, Marquart LF. Intersection of diet, health, and environment: Land grant universities’ role in creating platforms for sustainable food systems. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 2020;4(70).

8 SSSA-McIvor 2017 - McIvor K. Soils in the city: Community gardens. Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). 2017.

9 CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

10 Coop-Directory - Coop Directory Service. Coop Directory Service listing.

11 NCGA-Stores - National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA). Putting it all together for food co-ops.

12 CDI-Reyes 2015 - Reyes D. How cooperative grocery stores are bringing food access to low-income neighborhoods. Cooperative Development Institute (CDI); 2015.