NCBA - National Cooperative Business Association

01/06/2020 | Press release | Archived content

An Amazon/Whole Foods co-op might not be in your future, but your local food co-op’s doors are wide open

When people shop at their local food co-op, more of the money they spend goes back into the local community, supporting a robust local economy. [photo: Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op]Larry Light raised a not-so-novel idea when he suggested Amazon/Whole Foods could one day develop local food co-ops in his Dec. 10 column, which asked, 'Is a Whole Foods Co-op in Your Future?'

An Amazon/Whole Foods Co-op is unlikely for a variety of reasons: first and foremost, because corporations are beholden to their shareholders and their primary purpose is to maximize profits.

On the other hand, food co-ops are grocery stores that are locally owned by the people who shop there. So instead of focusing on Wall Street investors, they can focus on what their community wants-nourishing everyone according to their budget and cooking style. When people shop at their local food co-op, more of the money they spend goes back into the local community, supporting a robust local economy. Profits in investor-owned corporations serve to enrich their shareholders.

As with some membership organizations, the owners of co-ops may receive financial rewards like discounts and coupons. However, at co-ops, owners get more. They may share in the profits through patronage dividends, they have a voice in the direction of the co-op by voting for their local board of directors, and they can even run for a seat on the board. I don't think this option is going to be open to Prime members anytime soon.

I couldn't agree more with Mr. Light that most people experience some tension between their desire for individuality and authentic community-it is the precise reason people work together to open food co-ops and the reason we are successful in many markets to this day. As democratic organizations based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, equality, equity and solidarity, the cooperative business model offers everyone a voice, a choice and a community.

The good news is that there are already hundreds of food co-ops operating in communities across the U.S. National Co+op Grocers (NCG) represents 148 co-ops operating 200+ retail locations. Each of these co-ops is and always will be independently owned and operated. Most have been serving their communities for decades, offering plenty of fresh, delicious local and organic food in a warm and welcoming environment with knowledgeable and friendly staff.

Chances are there's already a food co-op near you, and its doors are wide open. So, while an Amazon/Whole Foods Co-op may not be in your future, a true community-owned food co-op could very well be in your present. Find a co-op near you at

-C. E. Pugh is CEO of National Co+op Grocers.