Food Co-Ops

by Tim & Vickilynn Haycraft

As our family started our walk into healthier foods, we ran into some stumbling blocks. One was unfamiliar ingredients. These were items that I had no idea what they were, let alone how to pronounce them when I saw them in recipes. For example…did you know that "Quinoa" is pronounced "Keen- wah? Nope, I didn't either, and I called it Kwin-oh-ah! Oh well! Also Kamut is pronounced Kam-moot , Basmati is pronounced Bas-mot-ee, and on and on.

OK, so I learned how to SAY these ingredients, but now where could I find them? As I unsuspectingly marched into my local health food store list in hand, I saw our food bill skyrocket. We were faced with our second barricade…the funds to purchase specialty items at prices much higher than the supermarket items. I tried buying them through mail order sources, and the prices were less, in most cases, than the health food store, but there was shipping to consider. On the light weight items like bread bags for our homemade bread, there wasn't too much problem, but if I bought bulk items like 25 or 50 pounds of wheat, the shipping costs added so much to the item, it almost doubled the purchase price. There had to be a better way!

Due to our son's and my physical condition, we felt these ingredients were necessary, but we did not have the extra money to allow for them. Our Naturopath suggested we join or start a co-op. There was none in our area to join, so it was up to us to start our own. We did hours of research, comparisons, and telephone fact-gathering calling all over the country. This is what we found:

Co-ops, or co-operatives, are a group of people who get together and order items at a bulk price (lower than retail) and most times close to wholesale. The term co-op can mean the Wholesaler ...the company who sells you the item, OR the group you form to buy from this company, now becoming widely known as a "Buying Club".

The easiest way to co-op is to find and join an existing group in your area. You may find different setups in these as each one is the individual preference of the one or ones who started it.

Some buying clubs:

  • Require monthly or yearly membership fees or dues, others may charge 5-15% per item for club costs.
  • Require each family to participate in some function of the buying group, like data entry, making phone calls, preparing invoices, meeting the truck, splitting bulk orders into smaller portions, dividing the orders by family, or being responsible for collecting the money from the buying club members and paying the delivery truck.
  • Have assigned tasks that change each year, like Secretary, Treasurer, etc.
  • Have monthly meetings to go over the product list, share information and decide what items to buy together to get the best price.
  • Require all the members to purchase a set quantity of the agreed upon item so the whole group can get the lowest price. Other clubs do not require this.
  • Share a meal together at these meetings, some do not.
  • Will do all the work for you: order, invoice, call, meet truck etc., and only charge a small fee for the service. With this type most times, you will simply pick up your separated and boxed order on pick up day.

Another option is to start a buying club of your own. Most of the food and herb wholesalers have order minimums, ranging on average from $100 - $500. Most charge 5-8% for truck shipping charges, most do not charge sale tax unless they are in your state. Some companies deliver to your area every 4 weeks, some 6 or 8 weeks. Most will ship UPS, but again, the bulk items are more costly with added UPS shipping. You should inquire as to these buying requirements before you decide to purchase from a company.

Some things to consider before starting a buying club:

  • You must meet the minimums in most cases to get the truck to deliver to you area. If your family alone makes these purchases, you can order by yourself. If you cannot spend this much every month, try getting some friends to go in with you and split orders. Ask at your church or homeschool support group. You may even place an ad in the local paper.
  • Locate all the wholesalers that deliver to your area, compare prices, minimums and shipping charges. Look for the ones that carry the products you are most interested in. Some companies carry a wide variety of packaged, bulk and fresh foods, organic and commercial. Some carry refrigerated items including dairy and produce, others do not. (Information follows on how to obtain a list of wholesalers that deliver to your area)
  • You must decide which setup works best, do you want to do all the work and charge a small fee, or would you rather everyone pitch in and help? Do you want everyone to buy 5 pounds of organic long grain brown rice so your buying club can buy the 50 pound bag and get the best price? If so, who will divide and re-bag? Will you have people order their own items? If so, will you split orders for those who only want a few pounds of an item? Who will pay for the long distance phone calls, the plastic bags for dividing and other supplies?

Will you require dues to cover these costs? If dealing with people you do not know very well, you may require them to pay for their order in advance, then you will need to refund any overpayment for items that are out of stock and not delivered, or ask for additional money for any price increases. You might choose have a separate club bank account to make things easier.

I know this sounds complicated, but it really isn't once you get established. In our family co-op we started years ago, we do all the work, beginning to end, (even carrying the order to the car for them) and we charge 10% above wholesale. What we do is: gather each family's order by phone, enter that order into the computer, place a Master Order with the wholesaler by FAX or phone, meet the truck, pay the truck driver, unload the items, adjusting each invoice to reflect out of stock undelivered items, or any prices increases, print out each invoice, separate orders by family, be available for 2 days for the families to pick up their order, carry the order to their car, and receive their payment and deposit it the separate account.

If you are starting a new buying club, our recommendation is to split up all the responsibilities and costs, asking for a small monthly or yearly dues to cover supplies. This way, no one person or family has all the work and all the families share equally in obtaining natural foods, organic, bulk, and specialty items at a fraction of what they cost in the health food stores.

Here is list of wholesalers that we have compiled. You may contact them directly to ask about purchase requirements. When we were looking, we ordered ALL the catalogs of the companies that delivered to our area, we spread them out and compared items, shipping costs, minimums, and products we were interested in. this helped us a great deal to choose the right company to deal with.


79709 Dufer Valley Rd.
Dufer, OR 97021

2340 Heinz Rd
Iowa City, IA 52240

Minneapolis, MN 55414
800-322-8324 (in MN)
800-328-8241 (outside MN)

PO Box 489
Pullman MI 49450

Columbus, OH 43213

3021 78th St
PO Box 299
Norway, IA 52318

Poughkeepsie, NY 12603

12745 Earhart Avenue
Auburn, CA 95602

4005 Sixth Ave. South
Seattle, WA 98108
800-462-0211 (in WA)
800-336-8872 (outside WA)

204 Regas Road
Madison, WI 53714.

PO Box 8188, Quinn Rd
Brattleboro, VT 05304

Box 1528
Fayettville, AR 72702 501-521-4920 (2667)

Battle Creek, Michigan 49017

Tuscon AZ 85701

135 North 10th (PO Box 307)
Montpelier, Idaho 83254 800-847-0465 or 208-847-0465

There is a simple way to find a co-op in your area, it only takes one SASE (Self Address Stamped Envelope)

CDS (Co-op Directory Service) is a FREE information service available to anyone inquiring about co-ops and wholesale companies. CDS will send you a free packet of information with your SASE, including the names of companies that deliver to your area, why you want to join or start a food buying club, and more useful information that I enjoyed reading. Kris Olsen provides a wonderful service to the consumer seeking to eat better and do it within a family's budget. So, before you make those calls, get the CDS packet, and you'll be better equipped to ask the right questions of the wholesalers.

Co-op Directory Services
ATTN: Kris Olsen
919 21st Ave. S.
Minneapolis, MN 55404
(no phone calls please)

If you would like more information on the Whisper Mill or other grain mills, the Bosch Universal Kitchen System, bread machines, cook books, herb books or any other products for healthy families, please feel free to write or e-mail. A new catalog will be forthcoming after their move in the next few months, so if you've requested a catalog…thank you for your patience!!

Heart 'n Home Products
PO Box 442
Black Mountain, NC 28711
Credit card orders toll-free: 1-888-875-BAKE (2253) Questions: 1-704-669-8773

Vickilynn also moderates a free Christian e-mail loop in automated Digest form every weekday concerning healthy foods. If you would like to subscribe to the Whole Foods Discussion Digest, please e-mail Vickilynn at

Vickilynn and Tim write a regular column for the women's magazine called "An Encouraging Word". This Christian women's magazine truly gives an encouraging word for today! Chock full of inspiring articles, Bible studies, practical helps, tips, resources, recipes and of course Tim and Vickilynn's regular column "You Can Make it at Home". US subscription rates are $16.00 for 8 issues per year.

To request a sample issue for $3.50:
An Encouraging Word magazine
PO Box 599
Idabel, OK 74745

1997 Tim and Vickilynn Haycraft All Rights reserved

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