Food Co-Ops – The 411

by Erin, The $5 Dinner Mom on January 11, 2012

Some fantastic information on food co-ops from Jamie…

Just like many of us, I am on a budget and must figure out ways to get more with less. Obviously, one way we do this is to get ideas and inspiration from each other. Another way I discovered was to start and operate a food co-op, where buying in bulk gets better prices, and gives me the opportunity for me to serve others.

Here’s how it works for us…

People who join the co-op can order as often or infrequently as they wish. We place orders once a month, and on the day of delivery we get together to re-package bulk items into the sizes ordered. Most of what we order comes from Walnut Creek Foods in Holmes County, Ohio. Much of what gets ordered is from their published sale flyer.

They email this flyer to me and I, in turn, email it to all our members and interested parties. We have available quite a variety of foods, from dry cereals and staple items to cheeses and meats to cold salads (potato, macaroni & cole slaw), jams, jellies, pizza ingredients, and on and on.

Each person who joins the co-op pays a one time fee ($5), is assigned a member number and receives a catalog from WCF. Most orders are sent to me via email; a few are called to me. Some items are at 50% of the retail price in grocery stores.

Check out some of these amazing prices that our food co-op is currently offering:

  • Colby Cheese – $2.41/lb
  • Smoked, honey roasted turkey breast -$2.93/lb
  • Maple ham -$2.25/lb
  • Rolled oats – $.44/lb
  • Unbleached, unbromated flour – $.34/lb

I have been operating this co-op for over 5 years, and it presently has about 124 members. I am thankful I not only have a way to save money on my own groceries, but a way to serve others, helping them do the same. We have become a community of people working together to save money while enjoying the benefits of healthier ingredients, community fellowship and less trash to inpact the environment.

If you have any questions on how to start a food co-op, let’s talk about it in the comments!

Jamie

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsey David January 11, 2012 at 10:31 am

I’m very interested in knowing more. One question I have is how many people do you need in a co-op to make it worth the time and money?

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:03 pm

We started ours with about 10 people. You need to decide where you will be getting your bulk foods, what their minimum order is, and what’s involved in setting up an account. We get wholesale pricing just like grocery stores, and are able to enjoy that savings by working on breaking the order down ourself. We’ve found that the more members we have, the more variety we can order is since not everyone wants the same items. Most items we order have to be purchased by the case.

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Kathy January 11, 2012 at 11:07 am

I am interested too! It sounds like a great way to save money on food. Another question is what is the start up cost to create a food co-op?

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:10 pm

Our startup cost was minimal: we bought 2 digital scales through ebay, purchased packaging bags and ties through the food supplier we were dealing with, and someone in our congregation donated money for a meat slicer. We have added things as we have grown. With a $5 startup fee, we used that to help with startup costs, and since we started this thru my church, they helped at the beginning. We are totally self-supporting, and are presently saving towards a second meat slicer. We now have 8 digital scales, a refrigerator, and many more supplies which members have either donated or our funds have purchased. Every member pays $1 over their food cost to help with supplies, and we save it until supplies need to be purchased.

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Jaimi January 11, 2012 at 11:11 am

I would be very interested in participating in a co-op. I am in Southern California (South Riverside County) if there is anyone already doing this, or willing to help get one going…

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:13 pm

I would be happy to if I were in California, but since I’m here in Ohio, we’ll have to pray the Lord uses someone else. Start with your church (if you attend one) and start asking people you know if there is interest. It only takes one interested party to get the ball rolling……

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karen January 11, 2012 at 11:56 am

me too! I live in FL and as much as I like going to big giant ware houses its kind of expensive and they don’t always carry what I’d like….. tell us more!

Im so sad, my coupon/sample email friend never responded to me. I gave up. Plus this would be a nice way to meet new folks in the neighbor hoo.

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:18 pm

The company we order from has a 35 page catalog from which to order from. If someone wants something not on the sale flyer, the shoot me an email, and I send a message out to the group telling them what someone is interested in. If enough other people are interested, it will get ordered. If not, it doesn’t.
It is a wonderful way to meet others, and I often have the opportunity to encourage, or even pray for someone during packaging. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fulfilling!

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Mel @ Trailing After God January 11, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I’m curious about the start up cost too. I am very interested in this!

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Michelle Smiles January 11, 2012 at 2:36 pm

I’m curious – do you have someone drive to Walnut Creek to pick up the order or is it shipped. I used to live near there but sadly have moved away from the area and wouldn’t have any idea how to find a resource like this in middle TN.

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Even though we are about 4 hours away, they deliver FREE because we meet the minimum order size ($400) Our orders are averaging around $7000. Our first order over 5 years ago was around $750.
You could start checking online about food distributors in a certain radius of where you live, and find out what they have available, and they require to set up an account. It would take some research, but it could be worth it. And if you do the homework, you may find some others who are interested and would volunteer to set it up :D

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Kathleen Baker January 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm

I live in Wellsburg, WV, am very interested in your co-op. I’m gonna check online to c where your located. Hopefully I’m not that far away. Will let u know. Thanks for the info.

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm

I don’t know that you’ll find anything on us as we don’t have a website (yet) and I wish we were close to you, but alas, I think we are probably too far. I live outside Greenville, OH and nowhere close to the WV border :(
The great news is, I got on google and it says you’re only about 1 1/2 hours from Holmes County, Ohio where Walnut Creek Foods is located. I feel confident they probably deliver in your area, or would add it to a route, since you’re so close. If you had a few interested friends, you could start up a co-op yourselves. I would be happy to chat with you about how to do this, and offer you forms, assistance, whatever you needed to help make it happen! I love helping people learn new skills, and get excited about the possibilities :D
By the way, I’m a Baker too!

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Amanda January 11, 2012 at 4:44 pm

I looked into coops around me a little while ago and realized that pretty much the only ones that existed in the area were geared towards “preppers” and not for people just trying to save a little on their grocery bills. I’d love if there were coops around here but I’ve never thought of starting one. It does sound intimidating, but if I could find more research that might help.

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:34 pm

If you would like to contact me directly, I would be happy to chat with you via email or phone about this. I see it as an absolutely viable option if you have a few interested friends/family members who would participate, and a food distributor you would want to order from. You can email me at: bakerncompany7atgmaildotcom

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Frugal Jen | Frugal, Freebies and Deals January 11, 2012 at 6:16 pm

I have priced it out in my area and I can do better by shopping the sales. But that said, if life gets too busy and I don’t have time for that Food Coops would definitely be beneficial.

jenetta

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm

Yes, you have to know prices at your local stores, and what the prices would be thru a co-op. Most new members who join our coop are amazed at the prices we can get on many items, especially meats and cheeses. We are getting the same wholesale prices that the grocery stores get, and we don’t have a mark up.
There are some things I don’t order thru the co-op if I know I can get it cheaper (equivalent quality) somewhere else. And many things I make myself, like yogurt and vanilla, etc.

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M H January 11, 2012 at 9:48 pm

This is an interesting article about one person’s experience with starting a food co-op through her church, but disappointingly far from “the 411″ on food co-ops.
A good question for the author to answer is how does a person find a food co-op in their area?
And how do food co-ops find distributors? Walnut Creek Foods as mentioned here is one option, but UNFI is another large distributor of natural and organic foods.

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Jamie January 11, 2012 at 11:24 pm

I suggest asking around places like your local extension office, bulk food stores, or just friends and acquaintances. We do not advertise our co-op, but there is a UNFI co-op also in our area, and I found out about them thru the UNFI database. I have talked with the woman in charge of ordering for them, and while we have a much smaller variety of products to choose from, the identical products from both co-ops are much cheaper thru ours.
When I wanted to find out about a co-op in my area, I asked many people if they knew of one. I found out about several, but not really what I was looking for. So I started one.
As far as finding distributors, there are several ways to find them. Look in the phone book, online, watch when you’re out and about for any business you think may be an option. Make phone calls. It may take some sleuthing, but could be worth the effort.

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Sarah January 11, 2012 at 9:53 pm

What you are talking about sounds more like a buying club than a co-op. I grew up on them. My mom always split her individual order, because the min. purchase of an item was big. Most in our club either had very big families or sold baked goods. Would love to find a directory of individual clubs.

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Anastasia January 13, 2012 at 4:58 pm

I had the same problem as a previous poster. I only found two in my area and they were no less than an hour away and both were UNFI or organic, which is up to five times the price I pay for groceries. The one that is closest, is still an hour away and you don’t a lot of food for $25. I would love to start one, but I don’t know 9 other people, who would even want to do that. I wish I could get those prices for cheese and flour. I pay $4.64/pound and $0.72/pound respectively. :(

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