Our guest blogger Nicole Lutz has been looking at local food co-ops: what are they, how they help you live for less, and where to find them in Brisbane.

What is a food co-op?

A food co-operative, or co-op, is essentially a bulk buying group comprised of a collection of friends or community members. The group will collectively purchase large quantities of food at wholesale prices and then split the items amongst them, making the unit cost lower for each item.

A food co-op can also be viewed as an alternative economy. They’re social enterprises sitting outside of mainstream capitalism. They return higher profits to suppliers by cutting out the corporate middle-man and provide community access to seasonal local food.

The benefits of a food co-op

The most obvious benefit of shopping through a co-op is the cash savings. Buying in bulk means you fulfil the minimum requirements to access wholesale prices for fresh food and grocery items. This saving is particularly advantageous when it comes to purchasing organic produce or health food items.

Other good points include financial benefits to the food producer, the use of less packaging, and local produce being purchased which means less food miles.

There are also social benefits, like the simple act of connecting with like-minded neighbours and the health advantages of having low-cost nutritious food is readily available.

Where do I find a food co-op in Brisbane?

Thanks to the internet it’s pretty easy to locate a food co-op in your neighbourhood. In Brisbane you can try:

Brisbane is fortunate to have access to Food Connect, a social enterprise launched in 2005 providing weekly fruit and vegetable boxes packed full of local seasonal food direct from the farmer.

Also consider community groups that may be interested in food co-ops and connect with them to see if they already run one; places like community gardens and schools are a good example.

How do I start a food co-op?

If you can’t find what you’re after, why not create your own? You might want to organise a dry-goods co-op from a health food or grocery wholesaler, or perhaps you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and visit the market each week to buy farm-fresh produce destined for neighbourhood fruit and veggie boxes.

Regardless there are certain components you’ll need to consider before starting:

  • Who is it for?
  • What will be provided?
  • How frequently will it be provided?
  • Where will the food be sourced?
  • What resources are required? (Vehicle, refrigeration, boxes, paperwork etc)
  • What will it cost, not just for the food but the additional cost of the above resources.

This article by Brisbane-based food co-ops expert Malcolm Blaney is a good guide on how to get started.

This article by Milkwood has some interesting food co-op case studies as well as links to other articles and sites, including the Open Food Network which has hosting capability for home co-op online ordering systems.