A natural foods co-operative is a grocery store specializing in whole, healthy foods, and is organized business-wise as a co-operative.  Many times these co-operatives are worker owned, but many times community members are owners of their local food co-op as well.  Natural food co-ops, like the Mariposa Natural Foods Co-operative in Philadelphia, the Community Food Co-op in Bozeman (MT), and the Rainbow Grocery Co-operative in San Francisco, tend to specialized in organic, local, seasonal, and high quality produce, sustainably farmed meats and dairy products, free-range chicken and eggs, and locally crafted wholesale products like hummus, salsa, and syrups.

What required knowledge or skills are necessary?

Forming a co-operative business requires several people to organize around a central principle of shared resources and ownership.  There are good resources available to help you start a co-operative (fuller plan will have ample guides for this setup).  A knowledge of the food industry, retailing, wholesale management, and inventory of perishable goods will be good for anyone interested in starting a worker owned co-op.  Aside from management, the work itself is strenuous and requires that workers be able to be on their feet for extended periods of time, and be able to lift up to 25 pounds.

How much money is required to start?

$$   (on a scale of $ to $$$$$)

What is the income potential?

$$   (on a scale of $ to $$$$$)

What is the best location for a natural foods co-op?

Urban (best), semi-urban (very good), suburbs (good), rural (fair).

Three best questions to ask yourself to find out if this business is right for you (if you can answer yes to all three, this business might be for you):

Do you have several people interested in becoming worker-owners in a partnership whose organizing structure is atypical of the American business community?
Do you have a passion for healthy food?
Do you find a lot of your friends and colleagues are interested in community, healthy living, and sustainability, but don’t have a better alternative for grocery shopping than a traditional supermarket or perhaps a Whole Foods?

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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