Grocery Stores

A major problem of most private or investor-owned grocery stores is that products are selected solely to maximize profit without strongly considering the nutritional value, health implications, or environmental impact of products. For-profit grocery stores are also frequently managed with little regard for supporting the local community, minimizing carbon emissions, or recycling. Even Whole Foods has come under fire for selling food labeled as “All Natural” that contains synthetic ingredients, such as “All Natural” baked goods that contain the leavening agent, sodium acid pyrophosphate.[1] Moreover, the CEO of Whole Foods has been criticized for his public opposition to the Affordable Care Act.[2]

724926_mFood Co-Ops

The most socially-responsible choice is to shop at a food co-op. A food cooperative or “co-op” refers to a grocery store that is owned and democratically controlled by its members. The objective of a co-op is to optimize services for its members rather than to maximize profit for shareholders. In fact, annual profits are returned to members or re-invested in the co-op. Another important distinction between co-ops and privately-owned grocery stores are the values that guide decision making, including democracy, equality, personal responsibility, and social responsibility.[3] It is thus no surprise that co-ops have been found to outperform conventional grocery stores on measures of economic justice, community impact, support for organic farming, and environmental impact (see the table below).[4]

Membership is not required to buy groceries at a co-op, but it will lower the cost of shopping over the long run.

You can find a local co-op here.


Shopping at a Food Co-Op Produces Many Societal Benefits

 Co-op (member-owned)Private or investor-owned*
Economic Justice
Average hourly wage$14.31$13.35
Employees eligible for benefits68%56%
Community Impact
Locally-sourced purchases20%6%
Local Suppliers15765
Local donations (% income)13%4%
Support for Organic Farming
Organic groceries sales48%2%
Organic produce sales82%12%
Environmental Impact
Average Energy Star rating (100 max)8250
Carbon emissions per $1 million sales5174
Plastic recycled81%29%
Cardboard recycled96%91%
Food waste composted74%36%

Source: ICA Group. (2012). Healthy foods, healthy communities. *Private grocers in this study included Whole Foods, Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Walmart, Supervalu, Loblaw Companies, Publix Supermarkets, Ahold USA, Delhaize America, Sobeys, Spartan Stores, Brookshire Grocery Co., and Metro.


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