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

Facebook 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.
    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

    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.

    • I felt the same way until something went wrong. When that happens you will never get your money back or a returned email. I’m sure they are making a mint on not refunding people with produce is not delivered.

  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… we can have our ” cake” and eat it too. Well not cake but produce… just much better

  11. Sadly, my eyes have been opened to the deceptive practices of B B …I have bought from them for years and have watched the quality go down . This week I bought 10 boxes of tomatoes to can . They were checked on site but when I started to use them, I found that almost half in each box were rotten on the bottoms. I also decided to start weighing the boxes as several were abt half full…the boxes weighed between 17-22 lbs instead of 25 lbs and half of those were totally rotten . I notified BB by email and got no response and asked on their fb page what to do . I got a very snarky reply that I should have read the info abt checking the boxes ..My son, who is an attorney responded to their reply that I was not asking for a refund …or a credit ..I was just asking that they let the supplier know and would have liked a simple ,”we are sorry..”That wasn’t going to happen from BB and after several responses back and forth, they never said anything other than it was in the rules and I should have read them …I am appalled at their response and at how deceptive they are by hiding behind their not for profit banner ..Check out who their distribution center is and where they actually get their product from . I would and did gladly pay for good produce, not caring one whit who made any money on it BUT be honest people and be decent . It’s time to stop and check out this company and see how it really works , from where the product comes from , who distributes it, what actually makes them a coop and what members of their coop should legally and morally expect…just like everyone else who asks any questions of them on their fb site , all of our questions and responses were deleted by BB …that speaks volumes abt their set up…

    • I too was a long time customer. I went to the first site in Utah, even helped run two sites. I’m surprised you got a response. I’ve never even been given that courtesy.

  12. I am looking to try this for the first time. The contribution is $15.00 per basket. The organic upgrade is $10.00 for a total of $25.00 plus the extra $5.50 shipping fee. Is the organic produce good quality? The total looks to be $30.50 per basket.

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  14. I have not had good experiences with BB. My first contribution had very wilted lettuce that had browned. My second contribution had 5 molded cucumbers and dried out carrots. My third contribution had a cantaloupe and a watermelon that were mushy and gross on the inside. So, we have decided that even if we spend a bit more, the value in not throwing food away and having to go buy more is better than the value that BB is offering. If I buy something from my local store, they will exchange it if it doesnt last a few days. If you dont like your basket from BB because one thing is rotten then you have to reject the whole box. That doesn’t make sense to me. Why not just do some quality control and stop buying old produce or rejected produce?

  15. This Saturday will be the 1st time I will be participating with BB, I am excited. As an elderly person with Heath issues and a low buget I am hopeful that this service will be an answer for me.

  16. I will never buy from bountiful baskets again. I bought a box of apples in May that I never received. It is now Sep and I am still waiting for a refund or a reply to my many emails. In Jun I got ten lbs of broccoli and five heads for cauliflower. there is just so much of that you can shove down your kids before it goes bad. save your money, buy local

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