Co-op: a giant slayer?
To the Editor:
Swarthmore Co-op recently hosted a book reading by food journalist Jon Steinman for his book Grocery Story: The Promise of Food Co-ops in the Age of Grocery Giants. His insight into the food business was pretty shocking. The power that the mega stores have over our food system is pervasive. Five of the largest food retailers account for 66% of all food sales. Due to the concentration of power, the impact on farmers has caused an income crisis. For every $1 spend on food, 14.8 cents goes to the farmer, the lowest in history. In 1950 it was 40 cents. Grocery giants shape the food we eat, too, selecting foods that look good, ship well and last long. This causes increased pesticide use and loss of genetic diversity. Conventional grocery stores return 23.1% of profits to their local community while in general, food co-ops return 52%.
The five largest Grocery vendors in the U.S. are Walmart, Kroger, Costco, Albertsons and Ahold-Dilhaize (a.k.a. Aldi – and did you know that Aldi owns Trader Joes?). Their overall wealth enables them to squeeze the providers to ensure that they can sell bananas for less than a small grocery can buy them wholesale. All of these facts can be found in Jon’s book (available at the Co-op).
Swarthmore Co-op, on the other hand, is one store, owned by community members. Every dollar of profit stays in the store. The only capital is the money raised through membership. The Co-op uses 110 local vendors, local meaning within 90 miles of the store. That’s 62% of all of the vendors in the store. The Co-op returned over $1.8 million to local folks last year. That’s incredible for a store with 38 employees and one location. By shopping in the Co-op, you can have an impact on our farmer community, our food system and ultimately on our environment. That’s a pretty powerful reason to shop at the Co-op. It also has great food and a chance to see your neighbors.
If you would like an opportunity to discuss Jon’s book, please let us know at Boardofdirectors@swarthmore.coop.
Board of Directors