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prolificus's avatar

Co-op food market, independent grocer, or chain-store?

Asked by prolificus (6552points) March 29th, 2010

Buying groceries for myself and my partner—no large family to support. However, I would like to buy healthy, organic and local food. Considering the pros and cons of each type of food market, which would be the best option for weekly and monthly shopping?

Which option do you buy from on a regular basis? Why?

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46 Answers

njnyjobs's avatar

Chainstore would most typically carry a wide assortment of goods, including organic products. Prices at chainstores would tend to be less expensive than independent grocers as they have the economies of scale working for them. Chain supermarket is what I frequent for food and groceries.

Independent grocers are great for those one or two things that you need in a jiffy, no hunting for an item up and down the aisles, no long lines at the checkout, my neighborhood grocer even has a drive-thru window. However, selection may be limited and prices a little more marked up, but it’s convenient for picking up just a jug of milk, or a carton of OJ or loaf of bread.

Co-op food markets are specialty stores that cater to a special crowd. Needless to say, I am not part of the special crowd.

crystalvegan's avatar

On a regular basis, I visit the farmers market every weekend for my fruits and veggies. They are fresh, organic and it’s never a bad thing to support your local growers. That should always be everyones first stop. The crap at the grocery store that says organic, is a lie. The FDA is so lax on rules for what can be termed “Organic” it’s ridiculous. So I say shop local first and go fresh. Next, I go to independent grocers for my specialty items I can’t usually find in the big stores….again, it’s supporting the local businesses. I’m all for that.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Co-ops, if you’re willing to do 2–3 hours of a volunteer shift a month stocking shelves and whatnot.

A couple of the women in my karate class who live in the neighborhood buy their food from the local co-op and they love it.

I get my food at Trader Joe’s, but I realize that that particular chain might not be in all parts of the US/Canada yet.

lilikoi's avatar

Co-ops or indy grocer, hands down. Chain stores suck. They lack variety. If they are Safeway, they make zero effort to stock local products. They lack freshness. I buy from a local co-op, of which I am a member. I buy certain things from independent grocers.

njnyjobs's avatar

@lilikoi…sounds like a biased answer, but nevertheless, you’re entitled to that!

The thing with co-ops is that it requires some sort of membership or affiliation. As most will probably say, there isn’t a food co-op that’s practical for them to visit even on a weekly basis. The whole premise of buying fresh is that you would consume the item within a few days. Buying in bulk to tide you over a week, or even longer defeats the whole purpose of buying fresh at the co-op.

wilma's avatar

I have to travel to get to a chain store, so I mostly shop at my local independent grocery. They have most things I’m looking for and a meat market in house, so they have the freshest and best meat around.
Once every couple of months I go to the chain store and pick up paper products and other things that are more expensive at my local store.
I do shop seasonally at farm stands that are near me, we have no organized farmers market.

jaytkay's avatar

Shop around, they all have their strengths. My main concern lately is price, as long as stuff meets a minimal quality standard. I shop a bunch of places.

Fruit/vegetable stand- Fresh fruit and vegetables
Chain supermarket – Meat/poultry/canned goods/peanut butter/tortillas/frozen veg
Asian grocery – Rice/tea/vegetables/fish
Trader Joe’s – Orange juice/bananas/yogurt/English muffins/beer/wine/crackers/hummus
Aldi – Oil/nuts/spices/vegetables
Meijer or Target – Non-food (foil/plastic wrap/soap/detergent)

njnyjobs's avatar

I’m with @jaytkay . . . I shop where I can economize, and do try to plan ahead. . . my 60-mile daily commute, covering 2 states, gives me lots of options where to shop.

WestRiverrat's avatar

I visit them all. I prefer getting my meat from my local meat locker, my fresh herbs, fruit and veggies from the farmer’s market or co/op. I then fill in any missing ingredients from the chain store. Many of my tomatoes and peppers come out of my window/flower pot gardens.

MissAusten's avatar

There are two grocery stores in our town. One is a large chain store, and the other is a smaller independent grocer. The smaller store is farther away, pricier, and has a smaller selection. They do have a huge prepared-meal area to cater to the people who don’t want to cook and can afford to buy those things. Judging from the crowds I’ve seen there, a lot of people choose to stop there for dinner on their way home from work.

We have a family of five to feed, so I mainly shop at the larger grocery store. I’ve been happy with the quality and selection, and tend to buy mainly organic produce and meats.

If we had a co-op in the area, I might consider that. It would depend on the cost. Some of the local farmers might offer a co-op option, where you buy “shares” and then receive a portion of their produce throughout the season. I don’t know if we could afford that, and I’d be afraid that some of the food would go to waste if it were something we don’t care for or know how to prepare.

We do have a fantastic farmer’s market in town from June through October. It’s open every Friday afternoon, and I like to go see what I can find for dinner that night. The produce is always great, and there’s even a local fisherman whose prices are always far better than the grocery store’s prices. The produce is pricier, but the quality is worth it. There are also things you can’t find at the store, like grass-fed beef and outstanding cheeses and artisan breads. My kids love it because they get to pet all the dogs that people bring to the market, and then stop at the ice cream truck on the way back to the car.

You can try Local Harvest to find markets, farms, and co-ops in your area. I’ve used it to find special items, like turkey for Thanksgiving. I can also use it to look up dates and times for farmer’s markets in nearby towns, not that I’ve found the time to visit them all yet. :)

thriftymaid's avatar

Buy local produce when available; you can usually get it at any market around here. During the summer I buy most of it from a guy who sells it out of the back of his truck; he parks in a school parking lot.

laureth's avatar

Our first “market” of choice here is the Farmer’s Market, which sells a wide variety of produce, meat, eggs, and finished products like spaghetti sauces and breads, in season. The rules for our particular market make local production of the merchandise mandatory – so I can be confident that I’m supporting my community and state. YMMV.

The next tier is our local food co-op. Unlike other ones people have mentioned here, our local co-op is open to the public. If you buy a share in the co-op (one-time charge of $65, currently), you get a 5% discount for as long as you own your share. The co-op concentrates on local products, but they also sell some products from further away.

The next place we like to frequent, when applicable, is a little independently-owned market that also stocks local items when they can. This market, unlike the co-op, is for-profit – but supporting local biz is a Good Thing, too.

Our local Big Box grocery that we get the non-local stuff at is also headquartered in our state, so we don’t feel too bad about shopping there (Meijer).

Last tier, where we go when necessary, is Whole Foods. There are some things you can only get there, so we go, but I prefer to spend on local foods, not “Local Food Feelgood Theater.”

SeventhSense's avatar

I use the large chain market because of variety and price but in season I’ll buy local produce. The market is basically the Northeast region of the country only. But lately I’m thinking of buying local eggs and fresh chicken from a nearby farm year round also. The thinness of egg shells when I make a boiled egg and the lack of taste is really bothering me. I want to eat happy food.

MissAusten's avatar

@SeventhSense I love to buy eggs at the farmer’s market. We always get a mix of white, brown, and green eggs. My kids think the green eggs are special and will argue over who gets to eat them for breakfast, even though they aren’t any different on the inside. Now that spring is officially here and I know the market will be starting up again soon, I’m getting excited about those silly green eggs!

SeventhSense's avatar

@MissAusten
Add ‘em to some ham and you’ve got a story…

simpleD's avatar

Food co-ops are as varied in organizational structure as are the communities from which they sprout. If you have one close by, take a look at it. Generally speaking, co-ops—which are mostly for-profit—are businesses which support their members, the local economy, and local agriculture. Many are open to the public. Many do not require you to work in the store. In fact, the IRS makes that option dangerous, so many co-ops have removed that requirement. Our co-op recently switched to a patronage refund. Depending on how much you spend during the year, you get a portion of the profits back at the end of the year.

The prices on certain prepared and prepackaged foods may be higher than you’d find at the chains, but bulk items and staples are frequently the same price or cheaper. You may also be able to take advantage of special owner offers or by ordering case quantities. As a bonus (if it’s part of the mission of your co-op) you can be confident that your dollars are supporting fair labor practices and sustainability.

wilma's avatar

@laureth “Local Food Feelgood Theater.”
That was funny!

breedmitch's avatar

Meats come from the butcher.
Cheese and dairy come from the cheese shop.
I use Fresh Direct for dry goods, paper products, some spices and baking products, as well as cleaning supplies.
A bit of produce is bought from a local Korean grocer; they really have beautiful fresh veg.
But the bulk of my fresh produce (in season) comes from the ½ share I bought from a CSA. It’s a great service which provides me with better quality veg (and eggs and herbs) than I could buy at any store.
Besides Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, any chain grocer here in NYC (ie. Key Food, C-Town) is sketchy as hell and I prefer not to even have to walk past their nasty doorway.

YARNLADY's avatar

All great answers ^ ^. Our local WalMart is part of a national wide experiment in buying locally grown produce at low prices, without the transport charges.

breedmitch's avatar

Maybe so, but it’s still Wal Mart.

laureth's avatar

Gosh, I hope WalMart doesn’t do to local growers what they’ve done to other producers with those ‘low prices’ – I’d like small farmers to stay in business.

YARNLADY's avatar

@laureth They are buying from the farmers who can’t compete with the ‘big corporations’. It is a win-win situation.

simpleD's avatar

WalMart’s idea of “win-win” is different than most would define it. The small farmer can’t compete because corporations have driven the costs down. Rather than getting a fair price at a local market that cares to support families and labor and the earth, they’ll have no other choice but to sell below cost to, ironically, the big corporations, among which WalMart is the biggest.

WestRiverrat's avatar

The Walmart here will not buy local produce unless the grower agrees not to sell to anyone else within 70 miles of any Walmart. Then the Walmart will only buy about half the crop and the farmer has to eat the rest.

YARNLADY's avatar

My definition of win-win is I get fresh produce for low prices, and the small, local farmer isn’t driven out of business by the big grower corporations. Wal Mart is the biggest corporation of it’s kind because they provide more people with good prices and decent merchandise.

@WestRiverrat Where is ‘here’? because that’s not in the plan I heard about – Northern California

simpleD's avatar

Forcing suppliers to sell below cost is WIN in the short term for consumers, but FAIL in the long term for small businesses. WalMart is big because most people only think about their short-term economic well-being, rather than the long term economic sustainability of local businesses and producers, and the preservation of choice.

YARNLADY's avatar

@WestRiverrat I don’t see anything like that on the internet sources. What farmer in their right mind would sign a one sided contract like that? It doesn’t make sense

simpleD's avatar

It doesn’t make sense. I highly recommend watching Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

YARNLADY's avatar

Pointing out the errors in the way a company operates is a worthwhile job. However, to spread rumours, out of date information, and start a movement run by it’s competitors to put a company out of business, , does not make sense either.

breedmitch's avatar

retracted by me

laureth's avatar

I guess I also forgot to put WalMart on my hierarchal list of “where I’d shop” because it isn’t even on the radar any more. I know the way they work, to offer those low prices they shag just about every other source, from their distributors to their labor. In California, there was a study done that shows how much they drain on hte economy by paying so little that their employees need public assistance.

Sure, you pay less for food, but you pay more in taxes. That’s “privatizing the profits and socializing the cost.” So even if they sell local food (which I support), they’re hurting the local economy, enough for me to not even put them on my mental map of where to shop.

YARNLADY's avatar

@laureth again – out of date and paid for entirely by their competitors, whose practices are not any better

simpleD's avatar

@YARNLADY: Do you have any evidence that WalMart has somehow repented and is now focused on sustainability and supporting local economies? That they carry compact fluorescent bulbs and organic produce doesn’t count. It helps, but it’s just painting a green facade. Do you know of any not “out-of-date” studies or reports conducted by neutral 3rd parties that show they have turned over a new leaf? I haven’t encountered any such evidence, but I am willing to give it a read if I find any.

YARNLADY's avatar

I haven’t heard of any up to date studies, but they have lost their discrimination court cases, and have been forced to change their hiring/promoting practices, and the off-the-clock requirements are no longer allowed. The salary surveys of their employees are reported to show a higher satisfaction level than before, and the whole welfare/public assistance thing was soundly debunked by the public assistance groups themselves, years ago.

WalMart is the largest employer in the country, including minorities, and there are hundreds of employees who have been with the company 15 -20 – 25 years who love it.

prolificus's avatar

How did thread turn into a debate about WalMart??!! Can we get back to the original question please?

YARNLADY's avatar

@prolificus sorry
I don’t see any reason to limit myself to one kind of grocery store. We look for the best price and quality. I am probably luckier than most because there is a full variety of stores that are all convenient to where I live. We can choose which ever one has the best to offer at any one time. We usually end up spending most of our grocery dollars at the Save Mart or the local open air Farmer’s Market, but most of our durable goods are found at Sam’s Club.

SeventhSense's avatar

I have a market called Fairway near me in NY. It’s the greatest supermarket in the world. It has every organic vegetable, fruit, meat, fish cheese, coffee known to man. It truly rocks. It’s about 10 miles away and I don’t go often but every time I do I go crazy.
Only a handful of them but great store. It’s like a cross between a Farmer’s Market/Specialty Shop/Mega Grocery Store in one. The last time I was there I got some Wagyu Beef that was like beef heaven and it was cheap.

laureth's avatar

@YARNLADY – who paid for the study that I posted? Is UC Berkeley in competition with WalMart? While I admit that WalMart isn’t going to pay for any studies showing itself in a poor light, not every study showing their dark side is paid for by competitors, and most competitors are not “the same.” Also, if the facts are documented and true, does it matter who paid for it?

Ok, rant off, for now.

breedmitch's avatar

<3 fairway…

YARNLADY's avatar

@anlaurethim That one is the out of date category

aprilsimnel's avatar

@timseventhsenseendrew – Ah, Fairway. It’s a once a month trip for me.

SeventhSense's avatar

@aprilsimnel
It’s like grocery heaven.

aprilsimnel's avatar

With tasty gourmet snacks scattered everywhere!

SeventhSense's avatar

I’m going tomorrow on the way back from Jersey. Good times.

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