Co-ops have big local impact: NCGA

August 20, 2012

New figures measure how food cooperatives benefit members, workers and nearby suppliers.

Are retail food cooperatives better for their local economies than supermarkets? Certainly not when the far greater scale of food stores is figured in.

Yet new figures issued by the National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) support their claim that food co-ops can be significant local engines. Research data from its 128 independent co-op members indicate that:

  • For every $1,000 spent at a local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in the local economy.  That’s $239 more than if that $1,000 was spent at a conventional grocer.
  • Co-op employees earn an average of nearly $1 more per hour than conventional grocery workers when bonuses and profit sharing are included.
  • 68% of co-op employees are eligible for health insurance vs. 56% of conventional grocery staff.
  • Co-ops recycle 96% of cardboard (vs. 91% at conventional grocers), 81% of plastics (29% at conventional grocers), and 74% of food waste (36% at conventional grocers).
  • Co-ops work with an average of 157 local farmers and producers vs. 65 at conventional grocers.

The NCGA members surveyed for the Healthy Foods Health Communities:  The Social and Economic Impacts of Food Co-ops report, operate 165 storefronts, generate more than $1.4 billion in annual revenue, and are owned by 1.3 million consumer-owners. The profile of foods they sell differs from supermarkets in three distinct ways: 

  • 82% of co-op produce sales are organic vs. 12% at supermarkets
  • Organics comprise 48% of co-op grocery sales vs. 2% in supermarkets
  • Locally sourced products account for 20% of co-op sales vs. 6% at conventional grocers

The Lempert Report applauds retail food cooperatives for their economic impact, and for their leadership in local sourcing.  The latter is a hot button today for consumers that want to support nearby businesses while eating foods that haven’t traveled thousands of miles to reach the shelf.