A cooperative is a business. Co-ops range in size from small store-fronts to Fortune 500 companies. In the US, cooperatives serve more than 120 million members, or 4 out of 10 Americans. Worldwide, 750,000 cooperatives serve 730 million members. In many ways, co-ops are like other forms of business—but in several important ways they’re unique and different.


  • are owned and democratically controlled by their members, who use the co-op’s services or buy its goods, not by outside investors. Co-op owners elect a board of directors from within their membership.
  • return surplus revenues (income over expenses and investment) to owners that are proportionate to owners’ use of the cooperative, not proportionate to owners’ dollar amount of investment or number of shares.
  • are motivated by wanting to meet their owners’ needs for affordable and high quality goods or services—instead of being motivated by profit.
  • exist solely to serve their owners. A cooperative pays taxes on income kept within the co-op for investment and reserves. Surplus revenues, with taxes deducted, are returned to individual owners.

Check out Jon Steinman’s Food Co-op Directory, the most up-to-date and comprehensive food co-op map in the world!

Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives follow seven internationally recognized principles:

  • Voluntary and Open Membership
  • Democratic Member Control
  • Member Economic Participation
  • Autonomy and Independence
  • Education, Training and Information
  • Cooperation Among Cooperatives
  • Concern for Community

Why Co-ops Form

Co-ops are formed by their owners when the marketplace fails to provide needed goods or services at affordable prices and acceptable quality. Cooperatives empower people to improve their quality of life and enhance their economic opportunities through self-help. Throughout the world, cooperatives are providing co-op members with financial services, utilities, consumer goods, affordable housing, and other services that would otherwise not be available to them.

Co-ops serve many needs

Cooperatives may be organized to provide just about any good or service such as:

  • Business services (personnel/benefits management and group purchasing of goods/services)
  • Childcare
  • Credit and personal financial services
  • Employment
  • Equipment, hardware, and farm supplies
  • Electricity, telephone, Internet, satellite, and cable TV services
  • Food and food services
  • Funeral and memorial service planning
  • Health care
  • Health Insurance and other insurance
  • Housing
  • Legal and professional services
  • Marketing of agricultural and other products



Choose a Co-op

How to Start a Co-op

Food Co-op Initiative

Steps for Start-Ups

Center for Cooperatives

Stories.coop is the world’s first global, digital campaign to spread the benefits of cooperation through the tradition of story-telling. Stories of cooperation from every corner of the globe, from the smallest cooperative to the largest.