Consumer Cooperatives

Consumer Cooperatives


Consumer cooperatives are organized by consumers that want to achieve better prices or quality in the goods or services they purchase. In contrast to traditional retail stores or service providers, a consumer cooperative exists to deliver goods or services rather than to maximize profit from selling those goods or services. Nationally, the most widely used co-op form is the credit union, with some 90 million members. Credit union assets have grown a hundred-fold in three decades.  Credit unions are essentially cooperatives of people that use banking services.

Other common types of consumer cooperatives include grocery stores (food coops), energy-buying cooperatives, schools, health care cooperatives, insurance cooperatives, and housing cooperatives. This resource library has separate pages on: Energy Cooperatives · Housing Cooperatives · Cooperative Banks and Credit Unions

Common Types 

Buying Clubs, Retail Outlets, Cooperative Retail Societies, Cooperative Wholesale Societies

This type of consumer cooperative organizes bulk purchases (of food, tools, recreation equipment, etc.) to then be purchased by members. The most familiar and popular type of buying club consumer cooperative is a food or grocery cooperative.

A Buying Club (aka retail outlet, cooperative wholesale society, etc.) may be a small group of consumers or a large group. A small group may form to provide themselves access to goods at more affordable prices. For example, a grocery cooperative could buy organic locally sourced food in bulk or at wholesale prices, then sell to members of the cooperative at a lower cost, than say, buying from a private grocery store. In smaller consumer cooperatives, members often volunteer to run the cooperative, and are governed by a one member one vote system. Larger consumer cooperative have employees, and members usually vote for a board to run the enterprise.

Some consumer cooperatives sell only to members, and others are open to the public.

There are many hybrid forms of consumer cooperatives. For example, a consumer cooperative may organize production of goods, and will become a hybrid form of cooperative if the producers become members.

Product Sharing Cooperative

Sharing Cooperatives are like Retail Consumer Cooperatives, except goods purchased by the Cooperative do not have an end life of being absolutely owned by a member. In product sharing cooperatives, a group of consumers form a cooperative to purchase higher priced items like cars and power tools. Then, depending upon the terms of the cooperative of how an item may be shared, a member may use these items.

Consumer Cooperatives with Links to their Bylaws and Policies

Buying Clubs, Retail Outlets, Cooperative Retail Societies, Cooperative Wholesale Societies

●  PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, is the largest consumer-owned natural food retail co-operative in the United States, with nearly 49,000 members. Articles and Bylaws. “How our co-op works” (links to member meetings, annual election, board of trustees, and policy governance)

●  Davis Food Co-op is in California. Articles and Bylaws. Board of Directors page (including links to policies and governance). Elections

●  Olympia Food Co-op is in Washington. Bylaws

●  Portland Food Co-op is in Oregon. Bylaws

●  Syracuse Real Food Co-op is in New York. Bylaws. Board of Directors responsibilities. Policy Governance

●  Ashland Food Co-op is in North Carolina. Bylaws

●  People’s Food Co-op is in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bylaws

●  Richmond Food Co-op is in Virginia. Bylaws

●  Ukiah Natural Foods Co-op in California. Ownership page (linking to Board of Directors, Committees, and Bylaws)

●  Monadnock food co-op in New Hampshire. Bylaws

●  REI (Recreation Equipment Incorporated) is the largest consumer cooperative in the United States. Governance including Articles and Bylaws, Board of Directors. Governance principles

●  MEC (Mountain Equipment Coop) in Canada, is a large consumer cooperative focusing on outdoor recreation products. Governance and Memorandum of Association and the Rules of Co-operation

●  National Cooperative Grocers Association provides a tool for finding a food cooperative in the United States has a search option for grocery cooperatives

Product Sharing Cooperative

●  Regina Car Sharing Co-operative is in Canada. Bylaws

●  Community CarShare is in Canada. Membership Information Booklet including Bylaws

●  Calgary Carshare is in Canada. Bylaws

●  Vancouver Tool Library is in Canada. Information about membership, cooperative, and rules

●  Canon Co-op is in Colorado and runs a tool lending library. Guidelines, governance and bylaws

●  Carsharing Association, located in Illinois, links to Canadian car sharing cooperatives


●  The Cooperative Group in the United Kingdom has over 7 million members, and is a diverse range of retail businesses making up over 250 subsidiaries. Membership Terms and Conditions


Resources on Consumer Cooperatives

National Cooperative Grocers Association

How to Start a Food Co-op: A Guide From the Cooperative Grocers’ Information Network
Author: Karen Zimbelman
Date of Publication: 2oo2
Overview: A basic overview of the steps and procedures to starting a retail food cooperative.

Legal Primer for Formation of Consumer-Owned Food Cooperatives

Author: Joel Dahlgren
Date of Publication: 2008
Overview: A legal primer that was developed by Cooperative Development Services, a partner in Food Co-Op 500. A thoughtful overview of the tax and legal implications of business choices made by cooperatives. Includes a useful “frequently asked questions” section on types of incorporation, bylaws, and member capitalization. Provides templates for: articles of incorporation, bylaws, and duties and responsibilities of board members. Written by a lawyer who runs Black Dog Co-Op Law, a firm that advises cooperatives on legal issues.

Keys to Success for Food Co-op Start Ups in Rural Areas: Four Case Studies
Date of Publication: October 2005
Authors: Greg Lawless and Anne Reynolds
Publisher: University of Wisconsin/ Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, Funded by the USDA
Overview: Four grocery cooperatives located in small communities in the rural Midwest, including one in a Native American community that did not end successfully, are studied from inception through opening day. The report analyzes what led to the starting of the cooperative, focusing on five components of the start-up process: the steering committee/board of directors, consultants and advisors, the business plan, project and general managers, and members and the whole community.

Sample Documents and Policies

Member Handbooks

Keweenaw Co-op (Michigan)

Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, Inc. (New Hampshire)

Mariposa Food Co-op Member Handbook (Pennsylvania)

Swarthmore Co-op (Pennsylvania)

Employee Handbooks

Berkeley Student Cooperative (California) This Employee Handbook applies to all regular employees in positions not restricted to BSC members.

Wheatsville Food Co-op (Texas)

Keweenaw Co-op (Michigan)

Hanover Consumer Cooperative Society, Inc. (New Hampshire)


Material on this page was compiled by Jill Jacobs, an attorney, SELC volunteer, and Sustainable Economies Law Fellow.

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