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How to Start a Food Co-op

How can you take ownership of your food supply and get products at a discount right from the source? By joining forces with others to form your own food co-op.


  • Step 1: Decide if you need to hire additional workers to staff the cooperative store to help with ordering, stocking, sales, and bookkeeping.
  • TIP: Sell membership plans once you are sure the project is moving into the implementation phase.
  • Step 2: Buy fresh and homemade local foods in bulk, direct from farmers and vendors, to stock the co-op store.
  • Step 3: Set prices at a small markup to cover the costs of overhead and shipping, and open the store for business to members of the cooperative.
  • FACT: The Park Slope Food Co-op in New York City was started in 1973, and has more than 14,000 members.
  • Step 4: Keep members informed about the co-op's operations and finances, and get feedback to better serve their needs. Remember, in a cooperative, every member is also an owner.
  • Step 5: Collect funding and capital from members and other sources to lease and start developing the site.
  • Step 6: Create a store design with a model layout of all the major areas: dry goods aisles, fresh produce, refrigerator and freezer storage, and checkout lines.
  • Step 7: Research the local market to find out how many members will join, what types of merchandise they want to buy, and how to get start-up funding.
  • TIP: Divide the group into committees that oversee and carry out functions like purchasing, construction and facility design, membership, and legal matters.
  • Step 8: Write a business plan that shows in detail how the cooperative will be developed and how it will sustain itself once it's in operation.
  • Step 9: Select a site for the co-op. A good location will be affordable, conveniently located, and the right size to serve your projected market.
  • TIP: A store that stocks a full line of products similar to a commercial grocery store needs to have around 5,000 square feet of retail space.
  • Step 10: Form a planning group of committed and dependable members to organize and put together the new co-op. Use a democratic voting process to elect a general manager and make other big decisions.

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