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Should you join a co-op?

Should You Join a Food Co-op? A Review of Bountiful Baskets

I’m always looking for ways to save on organic produce, and this past week, my family decided to try something new: a food co-op.

A friend told me about a national food co-op called Bountiful Baskets. Here’s how it works: Go to their website and find out if there’s a pickup location in your area, then find out if your location is an “A” week or a “B” week. Bountiful Baskets offers produce pickup every other week. When your week rolls around, you place your order on the website. In my area, you can choose a box of conventional produce or organic produce and then choose from add-ons that change weekly, including bread, tortillas, and specialty fruits and vegetables (these usually aren’t organic).

Should you join a food co-op?

How does a food co-op work?

Food co-ops work because the people who run it can buy directly from wholesalers and get a better price on items. Bountiful Baskets is a not-for-profit organization, and each of the locations operates with volunteers—they ask that you volunteer to help distribute the produce.

So I signed up for an organic box to try it out.  Here’s what we got:

  • 4 lbs peaches
  • 1.25 lbs tomatoes
  • 1.25 lbs kiwi
  • 1 lb plums
  • 1.5 lbs pears
  • 2.5 lbs apples
  • 1 baby broccoli
  • 1 head lettuce
  • 1 fennel
  • 1 lb yellow beans

Of course, the selection changes with the season and what they can get great deals on.  My husband went to pick up our box; there’s a very narrow window for pickup, and if you don’t come in that window, they donate your box to charity.  When he picked it up, the volunteers told him to inspect the produce in the box, and he discovered that some of the beans were moldy. The volunteers told him that normally he would only have the option to reject the whole box or take the whole box.  If we rejected the whole box, we could get a refund, but not a new box.  However, in this case, they had some extra beans somehow and swapped them out for him.

When I went through the box initially, I was very pleased.  Everything looked fresh and good quality.  Unfortunately, the big, gorgeous peaches I was so looking forward to eating ended up being a disappointment.  They all had some bruises on them, which wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but they got moldy almost instantly and were still too green to cut up and eat.  I tried to let them ripen, but they all molded before they were edible.  I ended up composting all of them.

The big question: Is a food co-op going to save me money?

That was my big question! So when I went to the store for milk and other essentials that week, I wrote down the current prices of everything I got.  Here’s how it worked out:

  • 4 lbs peaches @ $2.99/lb = $11.96
  • 1.25 lbs tomatoes @ $2.99/lb = $3.74
  • 1.25 lbs kiwi (4) @ $0.69/ea = $2.67
  • 1 lb plums @ $2.99/lb = $2.99
  • 1.5 lbs pears @ $1.99/lb = $2.99
  • 2.5 lbs apples @ $2.45/lb = $6.13
  • 1 baby broccoli @ $3.99/ea = $3.99
  • 1 head lettuce @ $1.99/ea = $1.99
  • 1 fennel @ $3.99/lb = $3.99
  • 1 lb yellow beans $2.99/lb = $2.99

TOTAL: $43.44

Even subtracting the peaches ($-11.96) that we didn’t get to eat, I would have spent a total of $31.48 on the rest of the items.

Want to know how much I paid for that same box of produce from the co-op?  $15.  That’s right.  So I saved more than 50 percent, even with some produce that wasn’t edible.

That’s still a pretty great deal!

Pros Cons
save 50% or more on produce some items may not be in good condition
try new things you don’t get to pick what you get
you get produce on a regular basis food co-ops may have very specific rules about when you pick up, etc.
you get involved with your community you may be asked to volunteer your time

Co-ops definitely aren’t for everyone. If you have a very picky family that doesn’t like to try new things, or if you’re very strapped for time, they may not work for you. On the other hand, if you’re open to trying new foods and don’t mind a few inconveniences to save big on produce, they can be a great option.

Have you tried a food co-op in your area? How did it go? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Original Photo Credit: mrwalker via Compfight cc

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14 Comments

  1. My co-op really works well for me because I choose my items online which cuts down on my impulse buys. It also helps me to keep to a budget because I only get so many “points” per week.

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  3. Please fact-check Bountiful Baskets.
    Bountiful Baskets does not appear to meet the international
    Cooperative Alliance’s Principles of Cooperation.
    There’s nothing wrong with the business model they have chosen
    to operate under.
    However,
    can they verify what they write on their Bountiful Baskets website
    that they are a non-profit? Nothing in their FAQ tells me what
    happens to the money not used to pay for goods, shipping or
    credit card charges. In a Co-op that profit is shared with the
    members or the members decide what to do with it.

    Arizona Incorporation papers
    http://starpas.azcc.gov/scripts/cgiip.exe/WService=wsbroker1/names-detail.p?name-id=15466984&type=CORPORATION

    Administratively dissolved.
    Same address as Kodiak Fresh Produce, in Phoenix.

    Conservatively guessing a few cents per basket not going
    to cover the cost of the goods, with hundreds of sites and
    probably thousands of baskets, that total dollar amount
    adds up. Who gets that, Kodiak or the founders?

    Not to mention Kodiak gets paid when the order is paid,
    by thousands of credit cards, with fees added for shipping
    and the credit card costs.

    There are weak Cooperative Enterprise Corporate identity laws in
    Arizona, Sierra Vista Food Coop in AZ had to incorporate in MN,
    look that up at Sierra Vista’s FAQ online.

    There’s nothing wrong with the business model they choose,
    but to believe that no profit is made at their AZ HQ when they rely
    on “volunteers” at their pick-up sites is a stretch.
    Bountiful Baskets have not answered my queries at their website
    about their Co-op status and they delete my posts and banned me from their Facebook page for asking about their Co-op status
    under the ICA Principles.

    Sources for Cooperative Identity
    1. Food Coop Initiative
    2. International Cooperative Alliance
    3. National Cooperative Business Association
    4. National Cooperative Grocers Association
    5. Consumer Cooperative Management Association
    6. Other groups with Food Co-op in their name who
    link to the ICA Principles of Cooperation

    • David, I’m fine with you spreading the word about what is clearly an important topic to you. I personally don’t really care if they are making a profit because the service is still a good value to me—however, I can see that it might matter to some people, which is why I published your comment.

      However, one comment is enough on this topic and I won’t be publishing any more from you here unless they are materially different. Thanks!

    • David you are absolutely right. I had a terrible experience with Bountiful Baskets, including moldy and inedible produce. I checked the links you provided and mentioned it on their Facebook page. I have now been banned!

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  5. I have used bountiful baskets for almost two years and I love it! Great value!

  6. Lacy, Thank you for sharing this information.
    Very helpful.
    I am going now to sign up for my local Bountiful Baskets!

  7. Bountiful Baskets is a great service in rural areas which are often under served by the local grocer. Many small towns have only one or not at all. My baskets have all been in good order but as any shopping the time between harvesting and my refrigerator I must act to minimize any loss.

  8. I love Bountiful Baskets. I honestly don’t care if a profit is made, although for the price, I can’t see how. I have hade very fresh produce. Never a problem. It last far longer for me then what I buy in the grocery store and it isn’t handled near as much. How can anyone complain when you get $45 or more worth of produce for $15? I am grateful for this coop. The add ons are wonderful as well. I’m eating much healthier and feeling better.

  9. I have used bountiful baskets for years and love it! Sure I get a over ripe piece of fruit here and there but the supermarkets have problems as well. BB is a great value and I will continue to purchase them I love getting surprised by the selection and often different types of fruits and veggies that I might not ever purchase in a market.

  10. I have been using this for almost a year. My husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, we we had to make some major changes. I could not afford all the veggies and fruit at my local store. I would have had to cut back to stay in our budget…..now we can have our ” cake” and eat it too. Well not cake but produce…..is just much better

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