A co-op is a business owned by its members, who share the profits or benefits.

The International Cooperative Alliance defines a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically-controlled enterprise."

Most food co-ops in the U.S. are consumer cooperatives, meaning they’re owned and governed by the people who shop at the stores. Unlike privately owned businesses where only a small group of investors benefit from profits, co-ops keep wealth in the community and distribute any surplus back to their owners. This business model creates a powerful economic force that benefits the co-op, its owners and the communities it serves.

The Seven Cooperative Principles

Co-ops are rooted in values similar to those many of us subscribe to personally, including self-responsibility, democracy, equality, honesty and social responsibility. In addition to these values, co-ops around the world look to seven internationally recognized principles to guide them:

  1. Voluntary and Open Membership | Co-ops are voluntary organizations, open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept responsibilities of ownership, without discrimination.

  2. Democratic Member Control | Co-ops are democratic organizations controlled by their owners, who actively participate in setting their policies and making decisions. One owner, one vote.

  3. Members' Economic Participation | Owners contribute equitably to, and democratically control, the capital of their co-op.

  4. Autonomy and Independence | Co-ops are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their owners.

  5. Education, Training and Information | Co-ops provide education and training for their owners, board members, managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-op.

  6. Cooperation Among Cooperatives | Co-ops serve their owners most effectively and strengthen the Cooperative Movement by working together through local, national, regional and international structures.

  7. Concern for Community | Co-ops work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies approved by their owners.

As a result of these principles, co-ops like Eastside keep money, jobs and profits in the community and promote equity in relationships with farmers, producers, staff and owners.

National Cooperative Grocers

National Co+op Grocers (NCG) is a cooperative of retail food co-ops across the country. They represent over 200 stores with combined annual sales of nearly $2 billion. NCG unifies food co-ops to optimize operational and marketing resources, strengthen purchasing power, and offer more value to natural food co-op owners and shoppers everywhere. Learn more about NCG at strongertogether.coop!