French co-operative supermarket model reaches Toulon

France has seen a new wave of member-owned supermarkets inspired by a Brooklyn co-op

A new wave of co-operative supermarkets is emerging across France, inspired by a model pioneered in New York. The latest is in the port city of Toulon, on southern France’s Mediterranean coast.

Named La Coop sur Mer, the co-operative opened its first store in June 2017, using a 25 square meter space in Toulon’s city centre. The small grocery store, which is open three times a week, currently works with 17 producers and seven wholesalers, selling over 200 products.

Related… Brooklyn food co-op inspires co-op supermarkets in France

The co-op has grown to over 600 members and has big plans for the future; it has recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise €20,000 to move to a bigger venue and sell more products, including local and organic products in bulk to avoid the need for packaging.

The new venue also aims to run cooking classes and a coffee shop as well as provide a space for conferences and activities.

How does the co-op supermarket work?

Prospective members of La Coop sur Mer will need to invest €100, while those on minimum wages can contribute €10. They will be able to receive their contributions back if they wish to leave the co-op.

In addition to contributing capital, members will also be expected to volunteer three hours of their time every month working for the supermarket. This will make up 75% of the time required to run the supermarket and will also ensure that prices stay low while paying producers a fair price. Until the supermarket opens, membership of Les Amis de la Coop sur Mer costs only €25 a year.

Members of the co-operative volunteer three hours at the store each month

The first such co-op supermarket in France, La Louve (the Wolf), was set up in 2016 in Paris, and was followed by thirty other similar initiatives in Marseille, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Nantes and other cities. The idea is modelled on the Park Slope Food Coop in New York, which dates back to 1973, which was founded to offer Brooklyn residents ‘the finest food at reasonable prices’. It now has 17,000 members, over 15,000 products and a turnover of $55m.

Alain Merlat, one of the co-op’s members, explained how the idea for a supermarket had developed: “Unsatisfied about food supply (low quality in large stores, expensive in organic shops), Ms Dominique Tardy and very few others created the association “Les amis de la Coop sur Mer” in January 2017, in order to build the project of a co-operative supermarket in Toulon. A year and a half later, we are 630 members !”

Mr Merlat says the co-op supermarket idea is no “a utopian whim”, as it follows its successful forerunner – Park Slope Food Coop. La Louve has also been a great inspiration for the group. He said: “Like La Louve did and like our countryside ‘sisters’ do, la Coop sur Mer won’t try to open a supermarket until we’ll reach at least 1,500 members. So far, we sell about 200 products in a tiny shop (20 m² !) to our members. Around next fall, we plan to run an intermediate grocery (80 m²) in order to keep on learning about selling, producers,… Just for this, we need a €40, 000 operating budget for the starting stock and professional equipment (refrigerators, till, scales, shelters,…). We got some of this furniture, thanks to our crowdfunding campaign, which will end tomorrow July the first !”

  • For more information on the crowdfunding campaign, which ends on 1 July, click here.
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