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To co-op or not to co-op: a case study of food co-ops in England

Caraher, M., Smith, J. & Machell, G. (2015). To co-op or not to co-op: a case study of food co-ops in England. Journal of Co-operative Studies, 47(2), pp. 6-19.


Food co-ops are highlighted in UK policy as one way of improving food provisioning systems when formal state and commercial services fail to deliver. This research takes a case study approach to food retail co-ops in England funded under a community outreach programme. The co-ops surveyed had different priorities, some ranking health and food prices as more important than those associated with sustainability. In the majority of cases there were no formal membership structures and no involvement of members in decisionmaking. All operated on a part-time basis, few had business plans for future development, and many were reliant on voluntary labour or inputs from other organisations for their survival. Many food initiatives using the title food co-op were not formally constituted as cooperatives, losing both the potential power and advantages that formal incorporation can provide and opportunities to engage in processes associated with “democracy”. There is potential for a “co-op of co-operatives”, with local food initiatives being members of the larger co-op. This would enable leverage in areas of lobbying and food purchasing and provide additional leverage in terms of changing the food supply system to be more sustainable.

Publication Type: Article
Publisher Keywords: retail food co-ops, health, sustainability, co-op of co-ops, big society, volunteers, food democracy
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Healthcare Services Research & Management > Food Policy
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