What’s a food co-op?


Food Cooperatives are businesses owned by the people who they benefit and designed to serve their needs. Our food co-op will be a community-owned, neighborhood grocery store that looks and feels like a traditional grocery store but is democratically governed by its Owners.

How is it different than a regular grocery store?


Food Co-Ops (or community-owned markets) look a lot like regular grocery stores -- with paid employees, clean spaces, full shelves, and fair prices. But co-ops are different from regular grocery stores in a few ways, too! The biggest difference is in the way the store is owned. Traditional grocery stores can be owned by a corporation, an individual, or a franchise. Sometimes the owner lives in the community, but more often they do not. Grocery stores often belong to distribution networks which have the benefit of keeping cost low, but also have the downside of lack of flexibility and adaptability. 

Food Co-Ops are owned by the community members who shop in and support the store. Each Owner has a say, through an equal vote, in how the co-op operates.

The purpose of a co-op it to not to accumulate profit for investors, but to meet the goals of its members. For this reason, profit generated by a co-op is reinvested in the business or the community, or it is returned to the members based on their use of services.

Ownership in the co-op is obtained through the purchase of a share in the business, which does not change in value (in contrast to publicly traded corporations) and entitles the member to one vote in matters that come before the members.

How much does it cost to be an Owner?


The cost of one share of common stock in the Whitewater Grocery Co. is $150. There are NO ANNUAL FEES. The purchase price for your share is refundable, subject to the terms of our bylaws. Ownership grants the following benefits: creation of a local business dedicated to providing access to full-service grocery store; the right to vote in elections and run for one seat on the board of directors; and financial benefits upon store opening. Financial benefits may include owner specials, case lot discounts on special orders, possible patronage refunds during profitable years, and owner discounts on classes or workshops hosted by the Whitewater Grocery Co. Ownership is subject to terms and conditions set forth in the Bylaws of the Whitewater Grocery Co. 

Do Owners have any financial liability before or after the store is opened?


No. Owners are not be liable for the debts of the cooperative, beyond the amount invested through your share.

To conduct its business effectively, a cooperative must exist as a legal entity separate from its members. Incorporation is necessary to achieve such status. The Whitewater Grocery Co. incorporated in March 2017. The articles of incorporation as well as our bylaws can be found on our website. 

Like other corporations, cooperatives obtain significant advantages from incorporation. The primary one is limited liability. Under incorporation, the personal liability of the individual owners for the co-op’s losses are limited to the amount of equity each member has invested in the co-op.

What will my money be funding?


Opening our store! Your money will help us to pay for legal fees, marketing material, consulting services, permitting costs, equipment purchases, and the many other costs that come with opening a business. Remember that your membership is a contribution to the capital of the co-op. By pooling our money together, we are able to continue the start-up process and continually increase our attractiveness to investors, credit unions, and matching grant programs.

Can I get my money back?


Your member equity, up to $150, is recoverable should you choose to leave the co-op, to be paid out as laid out in the Bylaws.

If the co-op is not successful and is forced to dissolve, all member capital will be redistributed, minus the money spent in the organizational process. For example, if we spent 25% of the overall member account balance, every member-owner would lose 25% of their total member equity contribution.

What are the benefits of owning a share of a community market?


The benefits of Ownership extend to the individual Owners as well as to the community at large.  Most Owners are motivated by a commitment to building up their community through developing a robust local economy.  Owners typically enjoy benefits that are not available to non-Owners, such as ongoing discounts and access to special sales or other promotions.  Owners also have an opportunity to help in business and operational decisions, including serving on a board to oversee these important aspects of the organization.

What is the value of a community market to the community it serves?


By investing in a community market, you are funding an organization that is intended to directly serve its Owners, local producers, and the neighboring community. A community market gives its Owners the ability to directly control or influence decisions made on how the business operates to serve its customers. With a traditional grocery or superstore, the products and services offered are fixed and determined by a controlling interest that is not located within that community.  A market owned by the community gives this decision-making power back to the Owners, who are often its most loyal customers, so the offerings are tailored to the specific community it is meant to serve. This is a more democratic and participatory form of running a business.

Can only Owners shop at a market owned by the community?


No! Anyone can shop at the market! Most community markets offer an Owner discount or other Owner perks. These will be determined by our Owners before we open.

Why should I become an Owner now, instead of waiting for the store to open?


The short answer is… because we’ll open the store sooner! Under the Four Cornerstones in Three Stages model that we are using, our community-owned grocery store will not open without 1,000 Owners. This is the level of Ownership that proves we have community support and that we are ready to open.


As we move through the Four Cornerstones in Three Stages model, there are many benchmarks for Ownership numbers that help us know when it’s safe to move on  to the next phase. An important part of the feasibility of the market is knowing that we have community support — through Ownership shares!

Also, by becoming an Owner now, you will have early voting rights and be a part of the building process of the community-owned grocery store. Your democratic say will begin earlier and have a huge impact.

Where will the store be located?


The location of the store will be determined later in the planning process (during the 2nd part of the feasibility phase). It is really important that the location is selected through careful research about traffic, location demographics, accessibility, parking, lot size, and other factors in order to build the most sustainable store possible.

In Whitewater, there are a lot of passionate opinions about where a grocery store should be located to best serve the needs of the community. Please know that every effort will be taken to survey the community about their opinions, but in the end the location will be selected based on site availability, feasibility, and financial sustainability.

If you’d like more information about how co-ops choose their location and site, watch this great webinar on the topic. 

When will the store open?


The opening date of the store is based on how smoothly we can move through the three phases of planning and launching the community market. Most community markets take 18 months to 6 years to open. We started this process in the beginning of 2016. For more information about the process, check out our timeline.

What kinds of products and services will be offered there?


The types of items — including decisions about affordability, brand names, local, organic, gmo-free, allergen-free, etc. — will be determined by the Owners of the community market, the Board of Directors, and the General Manager.

Though no decisions have been made yet, there has been discussion about how the community market can best serve the diverse needs of the its customers through several services. Those that have been discussed are:
– grocery delivery
– assisted shopping
– acceptance of WIC and SNAP benefits
– partnering with the Food Pantry
– online ordering
– bilingual signage and classes
– international foods
– meal kits
– cooking classes

There are many dietary, nutritional, and financial needs in the Whitewater community and the community market will aim to address as many of them as possible while still building a store that is viable.

The current core values of the cooperative include a focus on local and Wisconsin-made products, unique foods, and serving the needs of the community.

What does it mean to be an Owner in good standing?


Each ownership share shall cost $150. This may be paid in one lump sum OR in installments by paying no less than $25 per month toward the full cost. If the Owner has signed the Lifetime Ownership Agreement, and has either paid the lump sum payment, or is current on their monthly payments, they shall be considered a fully paid Owner in good standing.