Impact of US co-op grocers demonstrated in new report

Over a quarter of National Co+op Grocers co-op sales are from local producers, the study finds

A new report from National Co+op Grocers (NCG) argues that food co-ops in the US are leading in ethical produce and labour practices.

In its report, 2021 Food Co-op Impact Report, NCG references its vision for a food system which prioritises people’s wellbeing, across nine key areas: co-operatives, inclusive economies, racial equity, food justice, local food, organic certification, climate, environment and community.

“We are working towards the day when everyone can eat delicious, nutritious food produced and sold in ways that are good for people and restorative to the environment and our climate”, says the report. 

The report found that on average, NCG food co-ops buy from 178 local producers, accounting for 26% of total sales. This figure is up from the 22% reported last year. 

This year, NCG reported that 40% of food co-ops’ combined annual US$2.4bn sales come from certified organic products, which is 7% lower than last year, and Fairtrade certified products made up 5% of sales, a slight drop from last year’s 6%.

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NCG’s advocacy manager Mandy Makinen said: “We know from the Organic Trade Association that pantry loading at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 boosted organic sales nationwide, so it’s likely that organic products as a percentage of sales were up in 2020 due to this and other supply chain issues.  This is also the most likely reason that we saw higher sales of all value-added certified products in 2020 compared with 2021, including Fairtrade and B Corp.”

Organic as a percent of sales was down for all channels in 2021, but NCG food co-ops continue to outperform other grocers when it comes to the sales of organic, fairtrade and B Corp products as a percentage of total sales.

NCG also donated $90,000 towards organic agricultural projects in 2021. 

This year’s report also included new insights on employment, revealing that 58% of the 148 co-ops surveyed pay their staff the living wage, and 66% contribute to staff retirement plans, compared with 40% nationally for private sector service workers.

The report also found that the average food co-op employs 96 people, of whom 57% are eligible for healthcare benefits, which is 13% higher than the national coverage rate.

NCG represents 148 food co-ops across 38 states in the US, with a combined total of over 1.3 million members. 

NCG says in the report: “We have what it takes to dream big because food co-ops are grassroots organizations that are powered by democracy. Each food co-op can grow and change as community needs change, not when investors change their minds. Anyone, and everyone, is welcome to shop at the co-op, apply for a job and join as a member.

“Co-ops exist to serve their members and their community — this approach is our biggest strength. Our annual impact report reflects the values and goals of the communities we serve, both as individual food co-ops and through our national cooperative, National Co+op Grocers.”