Surprise! It’s a Co-op.

Co-ops come in all shapes and sizes.

by Erika Gavin
Guest Author

When most of us think about co-ops, we think of our funky local food co-op where we can buy kombucha and mung beans or grab a vegan meal to go. However, co-ops come in all “shapes and sizes.” There are electric co-ops, dairy co-ops, worker-owned co-ops, and housing co-ops, just to name a few. Some people may even belong to a co-op and not know it. Have you ever heard of a credit union? Well, it’s a type of co-op, too. As I was thinking about these different types of co-ops, I began to wonder if consumers realize that some of their favorite brands are actually co-ops.

Here are four brands that you may or may not know are co-ops:

1. REI
REI is consumer cooperative  founded in 1938. It is an outdoor retail co-op that offers gear and apparel for outdoor recreation like hiking, climbing, and camping. Members pay a lifetime membership fee to join and receive a variety of benefits, including an annual dividend based on purchases. As a cooperative, REI answers to and works in the interests of its members, not shareholders. What started decades ago with a group of climbers blossomed into a cooperative with more than five million active members and customers.

2. Best Western
This retailers’ cooperative was founded in 1946, when M. K. Guertin decided that a centralized reservation system would make it easier for travelers to book lodging along their route. Today, Best Western has more than 4,000 privately owned hotels. Each hotel chooses to voluntarily join the cooperative. In doing so, the hotel maintains independent operations, while benefiting from the member services derived from the pooling of resources and fees. These services can include central reservations, ad campaigns, and rewards programs. Unlike other hotel chains, the profits of the cooperative benefit the member hotels, not shareholders.

3. Ocean Spray
In 1938, three cranberry growers decided to form Ocean Spray. Nearly 80 years later, this agricultural cooperative boasts more than 700 members, including both cranberry and grapefruit growers. However, these growers are not just farmers for Ocean Spray, they are its owners. These farmer-owners elect a board of directors to watch their interests and to hire the management team.

4. Cabot
Cabot Creamery is an agricultural cooperative made up of 1,200 dairy farms located throughout New England and upstate New York. Cabot makes a variety of dairy products but is probably best known for its cheddar cheeses. Like other co-ops, Cabot is owned and operated  by its members, which in this case are dairy farmers. At the end of each year, the profits go back to farmer-owners. Cabot is also a strong supporter of other cooperatives. It even has a co-op to co-op donation program.

The above are only a few popular brands that are co-ops. There are actually many more. Some others include Welch’s, Sunkist, and Equal Exchange. Can you think of any others?

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