Though a global pandemic and ease of technology has sent millions of grocery shoppers online to order from Instacart and Amazon, the most grassroots and socially connected form of grocery shopping has been surprisingly untouched. In fact, grocery co-ops have grown during the pandemic, with overall sales increasing 10% during 2020, a year full of supply and social disruptions.

Erbin Crowell, Executive Director of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association (NFCA), leads the regional federation of food co-ops across the New England and New York region. He believes the key to co-ops’ resilience while other business models struggle is the inherent community buy-in.

He says that because grocery co-ops are owned by the community — the people who actively shop and work there — members have a deeper level of commitment to the success of the business.

Crowell was hired in 2010 by a group of food co-op leaders mostly in the Connecticut River Valley to coordinate the incorporation and development of the Neighboring Food Co-op Association. Their goal was to create an organization that would enable them to work more closely together to contribute to shared success. They also hoped to strengthen the regional food system and grow the cooperative economy.

Since then, they have grown to a network of more than 40 food co-ops and startup initiatives, locally owned by 164,000 members across New England and New York State, generating over $382 million in shared revenue. Their four-person staff focuses on facilitating peer collaboration, education, training, marketing, and food system development. About a quarter of their membership is startup initiatives, reflecting community interest in cooperative enterprise and a more healthy, just, and sustainable food system.

“I think that much of the growth among our food co-ops during the pandemic came from more people doing their shopping close to home where they had the opportunity to remember that their local food co-op wasn’t just about healthy food,” Crowell says.

Read the full article about grocery co-ops by Paige Wolf at Shareable.