Australians are turning their backs on big supermarkets and opting for a different shopping experience.
Co-ops are community-funded markets, which usually have produce that is freshly grown and delivered straight to their stalls, cutting out the need for supermarkets.
Priding themselves on delivering organic, chemical free seasonal produce, co-ops are quickly becoming more popular than ever.
Aasha Shaw, who owns and runs the Organic Corner Store in Glenelg North, says her co-op generally has a better range of fresh foods than would be found in supermarkets.
“I can only speak for our co-op which is seasonal, certified organic produce. We ensure quality of produce each week and our co-op is wholesale prices with a minimal fee which helps to cover costs of delivery, hall hire and insurance,” she tells upstart.
“I think customers feel like they are getting a good deal, they feel a part of something and they feel like they are cutting out the middle man.”
Co-operative businesses are created for the sole benefit of their members, which typically depends on an investment relationship where members buy and sell from the co-op.
Many co-ops do require a membership, with a small upfront fee paid during registration, usually ranging from $10 to over $100. Once this is paid, you are generally free to shop with them all year round. This makes members shareholders of the business, as it depends on them to run.
The move to have co-ops more accessible to people who aren’t in the inner city has gathered much support. It means supporting local businesses – something that Shaw believes is important.
“Our co-op is attached to a weekly market so it has fast become a one-stop shop for all of our customers shopping, and their social needs and wants,” she says.
“Our customers like to know that they are supporting our small businesses by ordering the fruit and veg through us, but also purchasing other goods at market.”
Lisa Wood, 24, has been shopping at Melbourne inner city co-ops since she was a teenager. She says the appeal of chemical free foods led to her choice.
“With supermarkets, you really don’t know what you’re getting. Who knows how long those fruits and vegetables have been sitting there,” she tells upstart.
“The co-ops that I have been to and belong to now have a sense of community. It’s nice to go there and know who you are buying off, and where the produce is coming from. It cuts out so many questionable middle steps.”
In 2012, there were an estimated 1,700 co-ops operating in Australia.
Internationally, it is estimated that co-ops have provided employment for around 100 million people. Rather than focusing solely on profiting, co-ops aim to offer their members lower prices and a better quality of food.
Shaw believes that the success for the Organic Corner Store comes down to how she and her team deliver their food.
“We now pack on average 65 bags per week rain, hail or shine. Our customers have pre-ordered thousands of dollars of produce, which is packed by volunteers and then collected at the market,” she says.
“This has been a wonderful way to make our market sustainable, as the produce is pre-ordered, delivered in bulk, separated by volunteers and then collected by customers … much more appealing than fighting for a car park and pushing a trolley around a supermarket.”
Wood believes that co-ops could lead to a healthier Australia.
“If there were less supermarkets and more co-ops, maybe we wouldn’t have as many health problems as we do. If people ate more fresh foods and less processed meals, then that would be a good start,” she says.
“It’s about caring what goes into your body, and shopping at a co-op is the way to do that.”
Katherine McLeod is a third year journalism student at La Trobe University and a staff writer for upstart. Twitter: @kattt_mcleod