A co-operative is a business enterprise owned by and operated for the benefit of those using its services.
From the outside, a co-operative may look like any other business. What happens inside makes it different.
At Ontario Natural Food Co-op, our co-op nature is not only in our name, it is in our mission statement. We proactively bring to market, organic and local foods and products within a co-operative network. Those original 11 members got us off to a great start in 1976, and we continue to grow and change. And it is both members and customers alike who play an essential role in the life and success of the co-op.
What is so great about co-ops?
Co-operatives differ from other businesses in three key ways:
- A Different Purpose: The primary purpose of co-operatives and credit unions is to meet the common needs of their members, whereas the primary purpose of most investor-owned businesses is to maximize profit for shareholders.
- A Different Control Structure: Co-operatives use the one-member = one-vote system, not the one-vote-per-share system used by most businesses. This helps the co-operative serve the common need rather than the individual need, and is a way to ensure that people, not capital, control the organization.
- A Different Allocation of Profit: Co-operatives share profits among their member-owners on the basis of how much they use the co-op, not on how many shares they hold. Some co-ops will return surplus profits to members and, therefore, the financial benefits remain within the community. Co-operatives and credit unions also tend to invest their profits in improving service to members and promoting the well-being of their communities.
(Courtesy of the Canadian Co-operative Association)