Earlier this month, Amazon announced it was acquiring Whole Foods for $13.4 billion, the megaretailer’s largest purchase ever. Weeks before the blockbuster deal, Whole Foods was courted by another giant retailer, Albertsons. But Albertsons, the second-largest grocery chain in North America, couldn’t compete with Amazon. As The Atlantic reported, Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods “holds implications for the future of groceries, the entire food industry, and—as hyperbolic as this might sound—the future of shopping for just about anything.”
What does this mean for cooperatives? What do we take from this?
One positive thing I take from it is this: Huge companies with predatory business strategies are trying to be something we already are. But there’s more to food co-ops than organic, local, natural, and fairly traded foods. Monolithic retailers will never be able to buy what makes cooperatives so special.
Our multiple-bottom-line strategy of financial, environmental, and social responsibility is built on the premise that for one bottom line to be sound, all the others must be, too. A profit made at the expense of our community or planet, for example, is a short-term gain for a few and a long-term loss for the masses. Thus, no profit at all.
This mutual-success idea is pervasive within the cooperative structure. Where some might say a food producer’s worth is based only on the profit that can be extracted from her goods, a cooperative answers with environmental sustainability, social justice, and building local economies. Where some might say cheap is best, a cooperative answers by redefining what “cheap” is and what it really means long-term to a community and its future. And where some might talk only of profits, a cooperative proudly shouts “multiple bottom lines” from the rustic rooftops of a bucolic New England valley.
In short, don’t let the Amazon news rattle you. We don’t have to compete with the giants because we don’t play their game.
Being locally and cooperatively owned and operated means we adhere to a different set of values, ethics, and principles. This is the cooperative difference. And the cooperative difference is never for sale.
Want to talk more about it? My door is always open to you.