How to Use Your Local Food Co-Op to Save Money

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How to Use Your Local Food Co-Op to Save Money
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How to Use Your Local Food Co-Op to Save Money

A food cooperative allows you to shop for natural, local and organic food and still save money. Read on to discover the benefits of shopping at a co-op.

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Many co-ops have a bulk section that sells a great selection of pantry staples. Buying in bulk saves money, uses less wasteful packaging and does not require a minimum purchase. You can stock up on flours and grains, or purchase just enough spice for a new recipe you're trying.

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Food co-ops source a lot of their produce from local farms, which means food travels a shorter distance to get to you. Locally-grown, seasonal produce stays fresh and retains more valuable nutrients than fruits and vegetables shipped over long distances.

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Many co-ops have a commitment to offering healthy, organic and sustainably raised products. The National Cooperative Grocers Association (NCGA) reports that in the typical co-op organics compose 48 percent of grocery sales, while the national average (including conventional supermarkets) is two percent.

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Co-ops have an especially extensive selection of organic fruits and vegetables. NCGA highlights that 82 percent of produce sales at co-ops are organics, while produce sales at conventional grocers are 12 percent organics.

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Co-ops care about educating the community to make better decisions. This is not only reflected in the store signage, which may highlight where a product comes from and other characteristics, but also in the events held. About 83 percent of co-ops offer healthy eating and nutrition classes, and 10 percent have a nutritionist available for consultation, according to NCGA.

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While both conventional stores and co-ops generate food waste, a NCGA study found co-ops on average recycle 74 percent of food waste compared to 36 percent for conventional grocery stores. Shopping at co-ops supports a business that operates in a environmentally responsible manner.

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Co-ops carry a range of products beside food. You can buy household items, toiletries and other supplies, which makes them a convenient one-stop shopping trip.

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Supporting a food co-op helps your local economy. On average, co-ops work with more than twice as many local food producers than conventional grocery stores, and a greater portion of each dollar spent is reinvested into the local economy.

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Want to save money shopping for groceries but want to stick to local, organic and natural eats? A food cooperative can give you access to high-quality foods at cheaper prices. Find out how participating in a food co-op can save you money, improve your eating habits and waste less food.

What is a food co-op?

According to the National Cooperative Business Association, food co-ops provide high quality groceries at the best value to their members. They are voluntary, non-profit organizations that are formed for members' mutual financial benefit and are owned and controlled by their customers. They can operate in buying clubs, small retail stores or large supermarkets, and many specialize in natural, organic and locally grown foods.

Cooperatives abide by seven principles that include voluntary and open membership, democratic member control and member economic participation.

How does it work?

Individuals purchase a share in the business to obtain membership. Member benefits include participation in deciding co-op policy, discounts and other specialized services. However, some co-ops let you pay for membership in volunteer hours, while others don't require membership to shop (without member discounts).

Your equity investment and volunteer hours help to offset the cost of operating a food co-op and help keep prices low.

Why should I join one?

Food co-ops primarily serve the common needs of their members and improve their communities. Members get access to quality produce at lower prices than traditional supermarkets while enjoying the convenience of shopping at a store. Any profit that the co-op makes might be refunded back to you based on your patronage to the store.

In addition, co-ops offer community perks like cooking demonstrations, health lectures, workshops and other events. Benefits vary from store to store, so be sure to ask the staff.

How do I join?

There are approximately 350 retail co-op food stores across the country. Search for your local food co-op using the Co-op Directory Listing, or try using Local Harvest's interactive map.

Want more?

Check out the slideshow above to learn more about about how your local food co-op can benefit you.

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