For this session, my assigned topic is “Cooperative Structures.” I took this to mean how grocery coops are organized – and in our case, I assumed we were really wanting to hear a little about how that organizational structure works in relation to governance by the Board of Directors. I also thought we might be looking around a little for alternative structures for the Board itself – how many Board members, what kind of committees, etc.
I decided to look at the work of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives (UWCC), and asked Ann Hoyt (who is actually faculty in another department at UW, but works on co-op research) if she might be able to come and speak to us at our May meeting. She was unavailable but sent me some references that I will list on this page – they are about co-op structures, but the examples are agricultural co-ops and credit unions, that are enough different than consumer grocery co-ops that I felt that resources, while helpful, are somewhat peripheral to us.
One recent research project that Hoyt worked on is Research on the Economic Impact of Cooperatives. There is a project website, where you can read the full, 76 page report – if you wish! I’d like to direct you to the short section on grocery co-ops, that I think give us some ideas for our session tonight.
Here’s a quote from the report, the first paragraph under organizational structures of grocery co-ops:
Retail food cooperatives either operate retail stores or pre-order buying clubs. Cooperatives that operate retail stores are predominantly single-store operations, but some successful stores have expanded to operate two or more stores. The largest of these is the Puget Natural Markets which operates out of nine locations. Several retail food cooperatives have expanded into non-grocery businesses. Most are restaurants and delis, but a few others include natural home products and vertical integration into ownership of farms and orchards. The store-based food cooperatives are characterized by their strong support for natural and organic foods, community activities, local food systems and environmental sustainability. Although many current store-based food cooperatives originally encouraged members to work voluntarily in the store in return for a “member discount,” most stores now hire professional management and operate the store with paid staff.
This paragraph suggests to me that it might be profitable for our meeting to take a look at the websites of some other food co-ops and see how their structures compare to ours.
Here are a couple to explore:
- Puget Natural Markets (PCC) – the biggest, 9 locations, but their Board structure is pretty much the same as ours
- Weaver Street Market – operates Panzanella restaurant
- The Wedge, in Minneapolis, owns Gardens of Eagan one of the oldest local certified organic farms that served the Twin Cities area.
- Cooperative case studies at UWCC
- Benefiting from the Board: A Case Study, by Anne Reynolds, who is the Assistant Director of the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives
- USDA publication on cooperative structure: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/rbs/pub/cir1sec6.pdf
- Filene Institute – Ann Hoyt pointed out their current project – the results are not published yet – titled “How Cooperative Structure Impacts Organizational Decision-Making” – which certainly sounds like it might be useful to us. George works for Filene, so maybe we’ll be able to get an advance copy!