Why should I shop for groceries at a co-op?
July 7, 2005 11:26 PM   Subscribe

Why should one shop for groceries at a co-op that sells local and organic foods, especially since it's more expensive?

I'm trying to get a fairly staunch Republican relative, set in his coupon-cutting,, big-box PriceChopper ways, to shop at a local cooperative, but can't come up with a very elegant argument.
posted by anonymous to Shopping (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Option A: Cheap veggies with exposure to insecticides
Option B: More expensive veggies, clean of chemicals
I suppose the outcome on that depends on how apt they are to gamble with their health vs. how important the savings are.
posted by rolypolyman at 11:35 PM on July 7, 2005

Co-ops and their suppliers do not expend nearly the same amount of fuel getting proucts to market as big-box PriceChoppers do.
posted by pmbuko at 11:52 PM on July 7, 2005

What does his being Republican have to do with it? And that's not a rhetorical question: Ask him. I'm a conservative Republican. I don't shop at Wal-Mart. I don't shop at BJ's. Big government sucks, and big corporations suck for the exact same reason.

If he shops at [Big Company] because he believes it's politically wise, you've got a shot -- unless there's a valid reason to boycott the co-op. (I wouldn't shop at a store donating X% to MoveOn, for example.) But if he's just cheap, you're probably out of luck.

Robert Reich said it nicely in an Op-Ed column earlier this year: The problem is, the choices we make as consumers don't reflect our values as workers or as citizens. You've got to vote with your wallet. If you support small community, then support small community.

Having said that, small business can't drop the ball. There was a local doughnut shop that used to run out of chocolate frosted every morning by nine o'clock. So I asked them, "If you know you're going to run out of chocolate frosted, and you know you're going to have a ton of extra plain, why don't you bake accordingly?" I love Mom and Pop -- but if they won't even try to meet their customers' needs, then Krispy Kreme deserves my business.
posted by cribcage at 12:05 AM on July 8, 2005

"It's the economy, stupid."

Your local economy, that is. Buying from national or international chains means your money's going interstate or even overseas. Pay your neighbor's bills and maybe he'll pay yours. Your local schools, roads and other essentials get the tax income.

And roly's pesticide thing.
posted by jayCampbell at 12:25 AM on July 8, 2005

posted by cali at 12:26 AM on July 8, 2005

For me, it's purely a health issue. Ingesting pesticides, excess hormones, and hydrogenated fats can't be good for me. If I could buy a wide array of high quality organic foods at Safeway, I would. I'm all for economics of scale, which is where the locals fall down in my book. For this reason, I usually shop at Whole Foods, which is sort of halfway between a local co-op and a big box retailer. I also like their no-hydrogenated-oils policy, which means one less thing I need to think about when shopping.

I also don't shop at Wal-Mart, but for a different reason. There was a good Frontline (PBS show) on this. Instead of manufacturers coming out with (innovative) products and marketing them to retailers at a fair price, Wal-Mart has extremely aggressive buying policies that turn this around: Wal-Mart is essentially dictating to manufacturers what to produce and at what cost. It should come as no surprise that Wal-Mart wants them to produce cheap crap, and I don't like cheap crap. I would rather buy somewhat more expensive but higher quality products. I have little problem with big-box retailers as a category, but when one company wields so much control over the entire supply chain, and is not aligned with my product desires, I can't help but take action.
posted by trevyn at 12:26 AM on July 8, 2005

Here are ten reasons to buy organic. It's an investment in the future of our children and the planet. If you consider the hidden costs of health problems, cleaning up chemicals in the environment, etc. organic foods may actually be cheaper in the long run. When you buy locally, your money circulates within your community, and will benefit you directly or indirectly. Lots more info out there if you Google.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:57 AM on July 8, 2005 [1 favorite]

For me, it's a health and taste issue.

Having food allergies and being sensitive to preservatives means that I can trust the quality of the meat and veggies at the local coop or Whole Foods a lot more than I can at Safeway or QFC. Also, I prefer to shop at the local coop over Whole Foods, even, as it keeps the money local.

Plus, the food just tastes better. It's fresher and tastes more like what it's supposed to taste like, and not a bland plastic replica.
posted by spinifex23 at 1:21 AM on July 8, 2005

Why do you shop at the co-op? Surely your reason would be somewhat persuasive.

As a dissent, here's a Salon story about how organic food may be unsustainable and can actually harm the environment due to the massive distances it has to travel powered by fossil fuels.
posted by grouse at 1:23 AM on July 8, 2005

If the co-op's financial support of the local women's health clinic has been broadcast all over the local conservative media, you might not be able to get anywhere with him. That happened in Iowa City about twelve years ago. The liberal papers wouldn't list the businesses which helped fund the Emma Goldman clinic--and I wanted to know which places I should support!
posted by brujita at 4:48 AM on July 8, 2005

This is why I try to shop at the co-op

- money: the food is grown by people who live locally, usually, and so they money I spend supports my neighbors
- money: the prices are often higher but it's not because profits are going to big supermarket chain CEOs, any extra money you pay to the co-op goes to help the co-op
- meat/eggs/dairy: all come from places I know which are not factory farms and where the animals aren't pumped full of hormones. Also buying these products keeps smaller dairies, butchers and chicken farms (?) in business.
- variety: our co-op sells a lot of things in bulk that I can only get at the supermarket at very high prices, so on things like pine nuts, spices, tea, dried fruits, and sesame seeds, I can often save money by buying only what I need and not paying a ton for packaging
- bulk ordering: the co-op will often order things for you in bulk so you can, for example, buy 5 lbs of coffee for $5.99 a pound when it's on sale [more money saving]
- aesthetics: I don't know about your co-op, but ours has real windows to the outside, friendly smiley workers, no flourescent lighting and minimal air conditioning. I don't have to take my life in my hands walking through the parking lot and I've never seen an exhausted parent smacking her kids around in there.

And then there's all the other arguments about why organic foods taste better and are better for you. I still buy some things at the supermarket -- big slabs of meat when we are grilling with friends, english muffins, big blocks of Cabot cheese, some ethnic foods our teeny co-op doesn't carry -- but I can afford to spend a little more at the co-op and support the local economy, so I do.

Bill McKibben likes to quote a UVM study [pdf] which estimates that Vermonters would save $50/each a year by shopping at WalMart instead of at their local stores. This saved money, he argues, is at the expense of things like workers with no health care getting on state health care rolls, which will result in increased taxes for you anyhow. While Walmart isn't quite the supermarket [well in some places it is, but not here] the argument still stands. Encourage your friend to do some shopping at the co-op as a first step, then let the co-op speak for itself.
posted by jessamyn at 5:47 AM on July 8, 2005

Great Question!

All I can do is relate personal experience...

I live with a roommate who is (a very liberal democrat and) thrifty beyond anything I've ever seen. So much so, in fact, that it's become kind of a running joke between us (and anyone that knows him). Anyway, we were making a combined snack thing one time, and he has this nachos dish he makes. He told me the ingredients, and I picked out good stuff from our local Wild Oats (yes, it's a chain, but it's the only non-bigbox grocery store around). So, he's surprised that I didn't get the "For More Value" or generic grocery brands, but goes ahead and makes the dish. After eating, he's amazed at the taste, the richness of flavor, quality of the meat (not fatty or gristly), the "chunkyness" of the salsa, and remarks that it's the best one he's ever made. So, he learned the moral of the story, which is that:

You get what you pay for.

(Disclaimer: Now, I don't know how much this sank in, because he's since gone back to buying the el-cheapo bulk-for-less crap from Kroger and Sam's, but still, I like to think that I made an impression.)
posted by chota at 6:36 AM on July 8, 2005

grouse- The simple response to that, for me, is just to buy local, which is another reason to shop at any coop worth its salt. I don't need my summer veggies imported from the Southern Hemisphere in the winter. Viva la seasonal produce!

To answer the question at hand- quality. Why buy a Lexus when you can buy a Honda? Why buy a Mac when you can get a cheaper PC? Why buy a more expensive anything?

If your friend doesn't really care about food, it's a lost cause. But I don't understand why anyone who gives a whit about the flavor of food doesn't shop at a coop, cost and location abiding.
posted by mkultra at 6:45 AM on July 8, 2005

Related: is there a good co-op finder online somewhere? Or, more specifically, what co-op is there in Arlington, VA?
posted by clgregor at 6:56 AM on July 8, 2005

I run a local farmers' cooperative, and my customers often tell me why they choose us over the other (often cheaper) options. They've said everything listed above as well as one other important reason: the produce they buy from me lasts longer with less waste, so even though they are paying more up front, they are often actually getting a better value. This might be best expressed in this actual email I got this week:

"Liked the blueberries VERY much. Ate them all up, so had to get more today from the grocery store for blueberry holiday pancakes. At 2.50/pint (ON SALE), the commercial berries pointed up the true value of ya'll's berries -- didn't throw any away because they were spoiled, as I did with the grocery berries. Also, thinner skins made for yummier berries, which, by the way, go extremely well with homemade lemon buttermilk ice."

Our berries sell for $4/pint.
posted by ewagoner at 6:57 AM on July 8, 2005

clgregor: "Related: is there a good co-op finder online somewhere? Or, more specifically, what co-op is there in Arlington, VA?"

LocalHarvest.org has become the best place to look for local farms and co-ops.
posted by ewagoner at 6:59 AM on July 8, 2005

For me at least, it is about being a good neighbor - I like knowing people and helping people who are investing in my neighborhood. I would much rather have a local store that actually cares about the quality of the area in which it exists and will do things to keep it up rather than just flatten an entire beautiful wooded area to build a parking lot. If it takes spending $14 for a cd at Decatur CD rather than go to Target and get it for $9.99 or getting to walk around the corner and chat with the owner of Cinema Shack about movies rather than get frustrated by the service at Blockbuster.
I guess in my experience you get better help, more personal service and you get to feel like you are participating in your community when you shop locally.
posted by GrumpyMonkey at 7:14 AM on July 8, 2005

The latest newsletter for SF's local travel bookstore Get Lost addressed the impact of local businesses. From the newsletter (I haven't had a chance to read the studies he cites):

On the subject of locally owned, Dan Houston, a partner in Civic Economics, has done studies showing that local merchants contribute more than three times as much economic value back to the community than do chain stores. (Read an interview at http://news.bookweb.org/news/3094.html or, read one of the reports at http://www.civiceconomics.com/Andersonville/AndersonvilleStudy.pdf).
posted by occhiblu at 8:04 AM on July 8, 2005

(Now that I have actually read one of the links...) From the Andersonville study:

Components of Local Economic Impact

The lion’s share of the local economic impact of retail and service businesses is attributable to four factors: labor, profit, procurement, and charity.

Spending on local labor comprises a larger share of operating costs for a locally owned establishment than for an outlet of a national chain. While the latter are able to consolidate administrative functions such as bookkeeping and marketing at national headquarters, independents must carry out those functions in-house or outsource within the community. Additionally, economies of scale and
carefully engineered store layouts may allow national chains to employ fewer onsite staff than do locally based firms. In this study the local firms spent, on average, 29 percent of total revenue on labor costs while the national chains spent 23 percent of revenue on labor.

Secondly, a larger portion of profits earned by local ownership will remain in thelocal economy. Purchases of goods, services, and meals at chain outlets generate profits for the corporation, which then either reinvests in global operations or distributes a portion of profits to shareholders. In either case, chain stores profits circulating in the local economy are nominal.

Third, locally-owned businesses procure a wider array of goods and services in the local marketplace. These include goods for resale, business supplies, and professional services, among others. For the local and chain firms studied here, local procurement was roughly twice as high for local businesses (6.0 percent of total revenue) as their chain competitors (2.9 percent of total revenue).

A smaller yet significant share of the local advantage is charitable giving. The owners and employees of local firms generally live in and around their business locations and are more likely to give back to their own backyard. National firms may be more likely to donate to charities near to corporate headquarters or other large corporate facilities.

As someone mentioned above, if he's a Republican because he doesn't like the government taking his money and spending it on other people, then giving money to national or international chain stores that are going to give his money to rich shareholders or other communities should be just as bad. And if he's a "local charities should be able to fill in where government programs don't" Republican, then, again, best to support the people who support those local charities. And if he's an "Outsourcing is bad, keep American products profitable" kind of guy... well, you have to be able to put your money where your mouth is and pay more for those products.
posted by occhiblu at 8:15 AM on July 8, 2005

Some information from an article titled "The Economics of a Co-op" posted by my country co-op:

...on average, each additional dollar the Whole Farm Co-op earns, $.976 will be spent back on the community. If I were to spend twenty dollars on the Whole Farm Co-op, $19.52 will be spent back on the community. In fact the person in the community who receives that $19.52 will turn around and spend $19.05 on the community, and as you can see this twenty dollars becomes worth a whole lot more than twenty dollars. In fact once the money has run its course it will have generated $833.33. This money spent on the community creates real jobs with real livable wages. If I spend my twenty dollars in St. Cloud it is only twenty dollars, but the community loses $833.33. Once the chain of community spending is broken the money is lost. [Co-ops] create a channel to invest in the community. If we ... purchase products needed for basic survival from the Whole Farm Co-op, the community will start to retain money. In comparison, purchases made at the local grocery store will pay one employee’s wage and the rest of the money will leave the community to pay for the goods which were produced all over the world. The more channels we have for investing in the community the healthier the community becomes. At a certain point you are guaranteed a large portion of what you spend on the community will automatically come back to you.

The rest of the article is posted there, along with some additional supporting information. My city co-op also lists the basic principles of a co-op. Good luck! I'm working to convince a number of friends and family members to vote with their wallets as well. You've got to get them in the door and eating the food before it makes sense--like taking public transit or voting, it seems like an inconvenience at first. Help them to see that working for change is a lifestyle choice, and a great one at that.
posted by hamster at 8:40 AM on July 8, 2005

I'm trying to get a fairly staunch Republican relative, set in his coupon-cutting,, big-box PriceChopper ways, to shop at a local cooperative, but can't come up with a very elegant argument.

You're trying to argue somebody into a purchase they don't want? Does that make sense to you?

Whenever he comes over, serve him something from the co-op until you find something he can't get enough of. Make sure it's something he can only get from the co-op. He'll start going. When he's there, he'll see more things to try.

That's the only way you'll succeed.
posted by dhartung at 10:29 AM on July 8, 2005

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