Food buying clubs & co-ops

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 farms (PolicyLink-HFAP coops).   

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Reduced food costs

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased access to healthy food

  • Increased food security

Evidence of Effectiveness

USDA-affiliated experts indicate that buying clubs and co-ops can reduce food costs (Kantor 2001*). A number of case studies also suggest that buying clubs and co-ops can have positive effects on food purchases (Little 2010*Carroll 2011*Shuman 2009). Buying clubs and co-ops may also increase healthy food access, choices, and food security for low income families (Morales 2014). Overall, however, additional evidence is needed to confirm effects. 

Impact on Disparities

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 in 48 states (Coop-Directory) and the National Cooperative Grocers Association represents retail food cooperative stores in 35 states (NCGA-Stores). United Natural Foods serves more than 1,800 buying clubs (UNFI-Buying Clubs). The Healthy Food Access Portal lists strategies and resources for development of co-ops (PolicyLink-HFAP coops).

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, PA (CDI-Reyes 2015).

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.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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.

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.

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

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

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

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

UNFI-Buying Clubs - United Natural Foods Incorporated (UNFI). A website exclusively for UNFI buying clubs.

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

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

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