The Economic Benefits of Co-ops

We all want to believe that Co-ops will benefit our pocket books, our families’ health, and our communities. But do the numbers add up? When communities have cooperatively owned grocery stores, is there evidence to show that these food co-ops financially benefit the communities they’re a part of?

The Spring 2013 issue of YES! Magazine highlighted the economic benefits of Co-ops in its article “The Economy Under New Management.” Surprisingly, the cooperative model shows up in more shapes and sizes than most of us might expect – from sporting goods stores (REI – the nations largest co-op) to unions, and even banks! Community banks account for 14% of the banking industry’s assets; and even better, the percentage of small loans to businesses and farms by these local community banks is a whopping 46%. That’s a lot of money being reinvested in local communities.  Further reading highlights several names you might have heard of – Cabot Creamery, Equal Exchange, Organic Valley, and Land O’Lakes – all cooperative businesses. In total, “nearly 30,000 cooperatives in the United States account for 2 million jobs, $75 billion in wages and benefits, and more than $500 billion in total revenue.”

So, how might a cooperatively owned grocery store help San Clemente? According to the article, “$1,000 spent at food co-ops, means $1,606 for the local economy. That’s 17% more money that stays in the community.” For every $1 million in sales, 9.3 jobs are created at food co-ops, as compared with 5.8 jobs at conventional grocers. On average, food co-ops source 20% of their products locally, compared to only 6% at conventional stores; and 38% of revenues are reinvested in the community through food co-ops, compared with only 24% from conventional grocers.

Turns out, food co-ops offer a lot to the communities they serve. The Ashland Food Co-op in Ashland, Oregon noted in its 2012 Annual Sustainability Report that it is one of the most sought after employers in the city, and for good reason. Employees are compensated with a variety of benefits, comparable or better than any major grocery chain. Just to name a few: 100% of full time employees who have passed trial employment receive a living wage for their local economy, have 90% of their health insurance covered, retirement plans, profit sharing and quarterly productivity bonuses, paid vacations, and staff discounts on purchases.

Why does Ashland Food Co-op spend so much of its profits on employees benefits? According to the report, “The Co-op invests in the people it serves. We actively build community through classes, special events, and service. Our Community Grant Program ($1,500 annually) donates money to non-profit organizations in our region. We also give out many small donations of gift certificates or food for fund-raising events, class trips, or other community activities. Getting involved with the Co-op is a great way to meet people and strengthen our local economy.”

And that’s just the beginning. Just think what San Clemente Community Market could do for San Clemente! Get your share today, and tell a friend.

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