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co-op faq

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Frequently asked questions about co-op stores: 

1. What is a co-op? 

  • A co-op is a business – a business with a difference.
  • The difference is that a co-op is owned and controlled by its members.

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 2. Who owns the co-op? 

  • Co-ops are locally owned by people just like you.
  • Owners, or members, are usually regular shoppers.
  • Co-ops are the only businesses where the shoppers own the store.

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 3. Who controls the co-op? 

  • Co-ops are democratically controlled using a system of “one member one vote”.
  • “One member one vote” ensures that the co-op acts for the common good and not just for a few individuals.
  • Members control the co-op through a locally elected Board of Directors.
  • A member can become a Director of the co-op by allowing their name to stand at an annual election.
  • Members can also exercise control by attending annual meetings, by proposing or voting on resolutions, or by offering suggestions to co-op management and directors.
  • Decisions affecting the co-op are made locally in the best interests of the members and the community, and not in remote head offices.

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 4. Who can become a member? 

  • Co-ops have an open membership, so anyone can become a member.
  • Being a co-op member means that you own a share of a business in your community.

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 5. How do I become a member? 

To become a member:

  • You purchase an initial share in the co-op (this is usually $10, and is a one-time cost; there is no annual membership fee).
  • You receive a co-op number.

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 6. Why do I need a co-op number? 

  • Every time you make a purchase at your co-op, you will be asked for your number, which is used to record your purchases.
  • Your purchases are recorded because your share of the co-op’s earnings is based on your purchases through the year.

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 7. Do you have to be a member to shop at the co-op? 

  • No, but by becoming a member you become a part owner of the business and share in the earnings of the co-op.
  • You can also attend annual meetings, vote on resolutions and run for a position on the Board of Directors.

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 8. What is 'Co-op Equity and Cash Back'? 

  • Earnings from the co-op are distributed to members based on their purchases during the year.
  • Earnings are returned to members either as equity or cash, depending on each co-op’s financial situation.
  • The cash portion is paid out to you each year.
  • The equity portion is your money that is being held back by the co-op to help finance the business, and maintain and upgrade assets to ensure ongoing success.

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 9. When do I get my equity back? 

Equity is normally paid out:

  • when you move away from the trading area or
  • when you reach a certain age as specified by the Board of Directors or
  • when you die and the equity is paid to your estate.

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 10. Can I use my local co-op number in co-ops in other communities? 

  • No. Each co-op is independent and has different policies regarding equity and cash back.

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 11. How is a co-op different from other businesses? 

A Different Purpose.

  • The main purpose of a co-op is to provide benefits to members.
  • The main purpose of a private or public business is to maximize returns for shareholders.

A Different Control Structure.

  • Members of a co-op each own only one share. In a private or public business one or a few shareholders can own all or a majority of shares and may override the wishes of smaller shareholders. This cannot happen in a co-op because each member has only one share and one vote.
  • Co-ops are accountable and accessible. Co-ops publish local financial reports and hold local annual meetings to report on operations and answer questions. All co-op personnel, right up to the General Manager and President of the Board of Directors, are accessible to the customers.

A Different Distribution of Earnings.

  • In a co-op earnings are distributed to members based on their purchases during the year. In private business earnings are paid to shareholders based on the number of shares held.
  • In a co-op earnings are widely distributed based on member purchases. Over the past 10 years, over $2.3 billion in cash has been distributed to 1.8 million members across Western Canada. In private business all or most of the earnings can end up with one or a few shareholders.

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 12. Why is every co-op store different? 

Each co-op store reflects the needs of its local community. Local needs guide the selection of products and services offered. For example:

  • Calgary Co-op, a large retail co-op, focuses on supermarkets and gas stations.
  • Avonlea Co-op, a smaller co-op, focuses on farm petroleum and farm supplies.
  • Amachewespimawin Co-op is located in Northern Saskatchewan and serves the aboriginal community of Stanley Mission with food, hardware, clothing and petroleum.

Based on local needs, co-ops provide one or more of the following services:

  • food
  • pharmacy
  • clothing
  • building materials
  • auto fuel
  • farm fuel
  • crop supplies
  • feed
  • farm hardware and equipment

Some stores are ultra-modern urban supermarkets and some are small country general stores, but they all have a friendly, welcoming atmosphere.

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13. How do co-ops contribute to the local community? 

  • Co-ops are part of the local community.
  • Employees live and work in the local community.
  • As part of the community, co-ops try to operate in a responsible, quiet and considerate manner.
  • Co-ops return their earnings to local members, either in equity or cash. In either case the money stays in the local community. That means shopping at a co-op:
    - helps to strengthen the local economy
    - keeps profits at home
    - provides employment and stability for people in the local community.
  • Being locally owned and controlled means that co-ops are there to meet the needs of local residents, not outside investors.
  • Co-ops believe in giving back to the community and typically support a wide range of charitable and community organizations that contribute to the social, cultural and recreational needs of the community.
  • Co-op employees are encouraged to volunteer with local community organizations.
  • Each individual co-op has its own way of contributing to the quality of life in its home community.

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14. Does the co-op have a code of ethical standards? 

Co-ops aim to observe and apply, in all activities, the following ethical standards:

  • All claims, statements, information, advice and proposals shall be honest and factual.
  • Sufficient disclosure of pertinent facts and information shall be made to enable others to adequately judge the offered product, service or proposal, and its suitability for the purpose to be served.
  • Due regard shall be given to public decency and good taste.
  • Unfair exploitation in any form shall be avoided.
  • Comparison of co-op merchandising, products, services, philosophy, principles or practices to those of others shall only be made honestly and fairly, and without intent to harmfully disparage.
  • The interests of the membership as a whole shall be paramount to the interests of the institution.
  • The co-op shall aim to be equitable in the treatment of its members.
  • Knowingly advising or persuading individuals to take action that may not be in their best interests shall be avoided.
  • The test for compliance to this code shall be the effect of a communication or action on the ordinary or trusting mind. It is not sufficient that a discerning, knowledgeable, or analytical person may derive a correct interpretation if others may be misled.

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15. Are co-ops good employers? 

  • Co-ops provide employment for local people and offer competitive salaries and benefits.
  • Co-ops typically employ full-time, long-term, well-trained employees.
  • The Co-operative Retailing System employs more than 23,000 people in Western Canada.

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16. Why should I shop at co-op? 


  • Co-op stores are built to serve the local community and are typically small to medium sized stores that are easy to get into, easy to shop at and easy to get out of. Co-ops bag your groceries and offer carry-out service.

Product selection.

  • In addition to a good selection of your favourite national brand products, co-ops have private label products, which offer extra value and a no-hassle guarantee. Watch for CO-OP®, CO-OP® GOLD, CO-OP® MARKET TOWN®, CO-OP® CENTSIBLES, CO-OP® CARE+® SONIC® and SHOPMASTER® brands, only available at co-op stores. For more information on food private label brands, visit www.storebrands.coop.

Quality meat.

  • Co-ops have a longstanding reputation for quality meat, which has been enhanced by '14 day aging and ¼ inch trim' policies. Full meat cutting service at most of co-op stores ensures a fresh product tailored to your individual requests. Marinated meats, ready-to-heat items and smokehouse products provide quality and convenience. BBQ chickens are 'Guaranteed available from 10:00 am until closing or they’re free'.

Quality produce.

  • FCL owns a produce company so co-ops can set and maintain high standards of quality. The 'Ripe and Ready' produce handling and storage methods ensure the finest quality fruit.

Quality bakery.

  • All baked products are trans-fat free (except for naturally occurring) and many are whole grain products. Co-op's Marvelous Muffins have more fruit.

Organic and natural food.

  • Co-ops have over 500 listings in the Pure Source organic and natural food category.

Local products.

  • Co-ops buy local products whenever possible.

Personalized service.

  • Co-ops strive to treat each customer as an owner of the business. They try to offer a friendly, pleasant shopping experience. Many people comment on the friendly, down-home, relaxed, rural atmosphere where the staff know you (and your kids) by name, and where they even sometimes remember your number. High Performance Service provides a noticeably different experience at the gas pumps.

Co-op Equity and Cash Back.

Co-ops support your local community.

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17. Why should I get involved in a co-op? 

  • Co-ops provide an opportunity for you to learn about business, to work with other people and to take advantage of training programs provided for directors.

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18. Do co-ops pay taxes? 

  • Co-ops pay municipal property taxes and federal and provincial income taxes, just like any other business.

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19. Is my cash refund taxable? 

  • A tax of 15% is withheld from refunds exceeding $100.
  • If your purchases are for personal use they are not taxable and you can claim back this amount as pre-paid income tax by using box 22 of your T4A and including this amount on line 437 of your income tax return.
  • If your purchases are for business purposes the amount of your refund can be included as part of your income tax calculation.

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20. What is the co-op's pricing policy? 

  • The goal of the co-op is to provide value for your dollar. This does not mean that the price on every item will always match the lowest competitor's price. It does mean, however, that co-ops are consistently checking prices at competitors that offer the same level of quality and service to ensure that the prices represent fair value to co-op members.
  • The 'Value Priced Every Day' program offers everyday low prices on thousands of everyday items.
  • The very popular Warehouse Sales are offered four times a year at participating food stores.
  • Many co-ops offer Seniors' or Family Day discount promotions.
  • Co-ops stock reasonable quantities of products that are on sale and offer a liberal “rain check” policy.
  • Co-ops give you multiple item pricing on single item purchases.
  • Co-ops try to operate in a very cost-conscious manner and return any earnings to members either in cash or as equity.

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21. How many co-ops are there in the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS)? 

  • There are approximately 200 locally owned retail co-ops across Western Canada.
  • These co-ops operate in more than 500 communities serving approximately 1.8 million active members.
  • Total retail sales are in excess of $9.6 billion.

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22. What is the Co-operative Retailing System (CRS)? 

  • Approximately 200 locally owned retail co-ops together own Federated Co-operatives Limited, a wholesaling, manufacturing and refining business that provides goods and services to retail co-ops.
  • FCL, together with these local retail co-ops, make up the CRS.

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23. What is the co-op mission? 

Co-ops are dedicated to something more than selling groceries or gas. Their mission, which is much larger, is:

  • to give people an opportunity to own and control a business where they shop, and
  • to improve the economic position of members within a responsible democratic structure.

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