Co-operatives look to join European buying group

Plans for British co-operatives to enter a European-wide buying consortium are being discussed.

Plans for British co-operatives to enter a European-wide buying consortium are being discussed.

The Co-operative Retail Trading Group (CRTG), which is the main buying group for UK retail societies, has made connections with many buying groups — some of which already host co-operative retailers from other countries.

Ben Reid, Chief Executive of Midcounties Co-operative and Chair of CRTG, told delegates at the National Retail Consumer Conference that the UK could increase buying capacity, allowing co-ops to compete with bigger rival retailers by joining a buying group.

CRTG is an independent body founded in 1993 and now represents 20 co-operative societies with an annual turnover of £8.8 billion. It is the “glue that keeps the Movement together” explained Mr Reid. “It is in those rooms where we talk about CRTG issues that keeps societies shared interests together.”

He explained, that although often “misunderstood”, CRTG is entirely independent and “is managed for us by the Co-operative Group… there is a formal agreement to manage on our behalf. This is in everybody’s interests.” He added it was “one society, one vote” when decisions were being made.

Despite turnover of £8.8bn, CRTG’s negotiating power is much lower than some of the bigger competitors such as Tesco, which has a buying capacity of £74bn. This has led to plans to join a European buying group, which not only provides better buying capacity, but also form new connections with other European retail co-operatives. An example is Alidis buying group, which already works with Spanish worker/consumer co-operative Eroski, which is part of the larger Mondragon co-operative.

A report, which will be released in the coming months, will explore the potential benefits of joining an existing European buying group and also explore the option of creating a buying group of co-operatives.

When asked by a delegate if could he see any downsides to joining a European buying group, Mr Reid said he couldn’t.

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