Everything You Need to Know about Shopping at a Food Co-op

When we were shopping at a farmer's market in Italy recently, it struck me that each of the items at the market was listed with the region that the item came from. It hit me that Americans have such a disconnect with their food and where it comes from. I started to become much more aware of how my food is sourced.

I've always been a fan of my local farmer's market, but that's generally a seasonal shopping experience in my area. Just this past weekend, Central Co-op opened up in my neighborhood and I thought I'd give it a look. I've never shopped at a Co-op grocery store before, and maybe you haven't either, so I'm going to try to answer all of your questions about food co-op's, from how to shop at them, if you should join one and the best tips to getting the most out of your shopping experience. 

central co-op tacoma

What is a Food Co-op?

A food co-op is basically just a grocery store that is owned by the people who shop there. Being owned by the community means that co-ops reflect the needs and values of the people in the community that they serve and this shows up in the product selection, wages and benefits and more! Anyone can join Central Co-op at any time, and anyone can shop regardless of membership. 
My new local food co-op is Central Co-op in Tacoma's West End at North Pearl and 46th street, so I'll be speaking a lot on that store in particular, though many food co-ops are very similar in how they operate.

food coop

Buyers are hired specifically for the area the co-op is in, and will have area favorites on the store shelves and work to build relationships with local producers. 
I know that my new local store, Central Co-op hired buyers specifically for my local area so they can make those connections in my community. 
Co-op's believe that by building these relationships, they are able to provide local, culturally relevant products to their shoppers that will help build a robust economy of successful small businesses. They're committed to strengthening the food economy in the area they are located in.

When a community thrives, the Co-op and members thrive as well, and I think that's pretty awesome!

Why Shop at a Food Co-op?

Natural food co-ops like Central Co-op, typically aim to offer high-quality foods at a fair price, for both shoppers and producers. When you support companies like this, you are keeping your money in your communities and supporting local small businesses. 

Natural co-ops support many different diets and tend to carry lots of foods and products for people following special diets or working to manage food sensitivities. 

After my trip to Italy, I've been trying to be more conscious about eating local, and at Central Co-op, I can do that because this store offers fresh seafood and meat department, a deli, a bulk section with nut butter and local honey. 

If eating local food and supporting local businesses and agriculture is important to you, then shopping at a food co-op is a great option!

Do I Have to be a Member to Shop at a Food Co-op?

I asked this same question! While membership has its benefits, your local food co-op is probably open to everyone. There are some exceptions to this, so if you aren't sure, check out your local co-op website.
 If you choose to be a member {it's really only a small fee to "buy in" My local Central Co-op membership fee is a one-time fee of $100}, at Central Co-op you get discounts, entry to special events, and patronage dividends. 

central co-op tacoma

Tips for Shopping at a Food Co-op

I've been shopping the bulk foods section of my local grocery store for years now and like the savings that I get. The added bonus is the environmental impact because I'm able to save on packaging and containers. The rise of the zero-waste grocery store is huge in our area now and I'm excited about it!
Here are some tips for shopping at your local food co-op

1. Bring Reusable Shopping Bags

Our local area actually charges for bags at check-out, so it's a habit I've been in for a while. Reduce, reuse, recycle, and bring in your own bags.

2. Bring Clean Empty Containers

The bulk foods section is a great place to stock up, and you are free to bring your own clean empty containers to fill. If you are just getting started, glass jars like these are great to buy and fill with your bulk foods.
Don't worry, if you don't have your own containers, they have bags of all sizes and plastic containers for use too! Many co-ops like mine, even have glass jars for purchase in the store!

How to use your own containers at the bulk food section

If it's your first time bringing your own containers to a store to fill up the bulk foods, feel free to grab a store employee and ask for assistance. But here's what you need to know.

Weigh your empty container on the scale. This is the tare weight. Write the tare weight on your container so the cashier can subtract the weight of the container from the price of the item. 

Fill up your container, weigh the item again {container and contents} on the scale and write that down on the provided sticker. If you want, you can again write the tare weight on the paper as well, next to the weight. 

The cashier will do the rest and simply deduct the tare weight from the final weight and price of the product. It's as easy as that!

bulk foods at food co-op

3. Be prepared to Stay Awhile!

My new Central Co-op store has a community area inside as well as outside seating space so I can grab and go some yummy warm deli items. It's a great way to get a healthy quick meal and the perfect place to meet a friend for a quick bite.

how to shop for bulk foods

If you are lucky, a quick search will turn up a food co-op near you. If you are local, come join me and shop at the new Tacoma area Central Co-op store. I'm excited to shop local and support my community!

disclaimer: this post is brought to you by Central Co-op. All opinions are 100% my own. I wouldn't tell you about something I didn't love. Promise.

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