Will joining a grocery co-op bust my food budget?

by Karen on August 11, 2008

I love the idea of a grocery store co-op. Cooperatively owned by community members, these stores sell local produce that is organic and free of pesticides. Not only does shopping there support local growers, but it reduces your carbon footprint by reducing the emissions created by the huge semis that transport produce to grocery stores from distant locations.

I used to shop at the local co-op occasionally when I was in college, but I never became a member. The produce was fresher, tastier, and better quality overall. But it was quite a bit more expensive.

While they do sell packaged organic and specialty foods, those items are way overpriced, so we only plan to shop at the co-op for produce. But we’re trying to reduce our grocery costs, and even with the discounts, I’m afraid that we’ll pay a lot more for our produce.

I think this is a really important cause, healthy produce is important to me, and I understand that local farmers can’t compete with the prices of larger distributors. So I’m willing to pay a slightly higher price for the quality and the cause, but we can’t afford to completely bust our food budget to shop there.

The membership dues are $30 a year. That fee entitles us to the member discounts, including select items at 25% off every day. They also send additional discount coupons in the monthly newletter and periodically offer member appreciation days for a 10% discount.

We’d also have the opportunity to volunteer a few hours per month to receive additional 12% discount days, and we’d receive an annual patronage refund dependent upon how much we spend. I can’t find any hard numbers on the co-op’s website or through my research on what kind of refund we could expect, so I’m assuming it’s not much.

We’ve decided to go there this weekend, check out the prices, and ask some questions about the discounts and the patronage refund. This is something we’d like to do, but not if it’s going to drastically increase our grocery bill.

We’ve shopped at the local farmer’s market before, and I’ve considered that as an alternative. I like the produce, and I think the experience is fun overall, but I don’t think it’s practical for us on a weekly basis. It’s kind of far out of our way, so I feel like our additional fuel consumption is offsetting some of the benefits of shopping there. It also forces us to get up and dressed on Saturday mornings earlier than we’d like, and the vendors there only take cash (which I find inconvenient because I generally don’t carry cash).

In addition to the costs, I’m also concerned that we might be joining a little late in the season. We live in a warm climate with a long growing season, so we can probably expect to see local summer fruits and vegetables at the co-op for at least another month or two. But what about the fall and winter? I would hate to pay our dues now and then have to wait through the fall and winter to start buying produce there.

Do any of you shop at a co-op or belong to one? What are your thoughts?

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We can’t afford exclusively organic produce after all « Living Well on Less
August 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm

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