Do you love really fresh fruit and veg? Do you love high-animal-welfare meat, eggs and dairy? What about organic grains, dried fruits and nuts? Yum, right? But expensive too. If you walk into a supermarket hoping to buy such foods, you are going to be spending a whole lot of money. But that’s not the end of the story. One of the ways to get good food cheaply is to buy in bulk with friends. Sometimes this is called a cooperative or a buying club. You benefit from wholesale prices, but don’t end up with wholesale amounts. There might already be a buying club in your area, but starting one with friends isn’t that hard.
How to Start a Buying Co op
- Start by choosing one product type you are interested in (say either ethical beef or fruit and veg).
- Ask around and find out which of your friends are interested in sharing a purchase or starting a coop.
- Approach a producer and ask them what deals they have for buying in bulk. You’ll find a whole bunch of producers at farmers markets but you could also approach a local butcher, orchard or organic food wholesaler. Alternatively, lots of co ops use the city’s central wholesale market.
- If this is going to be a regular group purchase, it’s a good idea to make sure that the people in your coop share the same values as you. For instance, if you don’t want to be eating peaches in June, have a conversation and set some rules about only buying local food in season.
- Discuss how you want to arrange the buying. Some coops rely on a single person being the contact point and doing the buying. Others – especially fruit and vegetable coops – rotate the buying so that each person or family only has to go to the market once every 2-3 months (depending on the size of the coop). You’ll also need to discuss if you are going to do this on a regular basis or only now and then. It’s probably good to do it once to see how it goes (or observing another coop at work) before making any decisions.
- If you like, once the food is purchased, everyone can get together and have fun divvying it up into individual portions. While this is communal – it might be less stressful for the shopper to divide the purchases.
Save money by working together
Thinking outside the box really can save you money! The most common form of co op is a fruit and vegetable one. It’s a really great idea and a way to get good produce cheaply. Each co op I know of has its own rules of operation, but the general the principles are the same: around 8-10 families (who may or may not know each other) use their combined money to buy in bulk at wholesale prices at the central produce market (in Sydney this is the Flemington Market). They each take turns doing the shopping then divide up the produce between them. When a family isn’t buying all they have to do is rock up at a set time with $25 cash. The result is that each family gets an abundance of very fresh produce for a fraction of what they would pay in a retail store.
Is it value for money?
I think so! This is the typical contents list for a $25 winter box:
- 1 small bunch coriander
- 1/2 bunch parsley
- 3 Green apples (Granny Smith)
- 3 Red Apples (Pink Lady)
- 1 Iceberg Lettuce
- 1/2 red cabbage
- 10 mandarins
- 9 tomatoes
- 3 heads sprouting broccoli (small)
- 4 oranges
- 4 Lebanese cucumbers
- 1 bunch bananas
- 1 bunch silver beet
- 2 avocado
- 8 large carrots
- 5 red potatoes (desiree, i think)
- 7 brown onions
- 4 lemons
- 6 (small) red onions
- 3 corn cobs
Pros and Cons of a Fruit and Vegetable Buying Co op
As you can see from the list above, this is definitely a value for money exercise! A buying co op will save you money and is a frugal way to source fresh produce. Of course, each family in the co op has to take their turn going to the market and doing the purchasing. This means that if there are eight families in your buying co op you will have to get up early to go to the wholesale markets once every eight weeks (or eight times if you decide to go less often). That is potentially a downside (although I think going to the markets is fun!). However, for all the other weeks you get to call in at a local home, hand over your money and walk away with a box of produce without having had to go near a supermarket. I think the pain is worth the gain.
Some may consider it a downside that you don’t get to choose your own produce every week – although if each buying coop agrees their values at the beginning of the process you should be able to trust the judgement of the buyer. Others may find it inconvenient to have to plan a menu around what you’ve been given rather than make a list based on what you’d like to cook. But we like to help people with that! Sign up to our newsletter and get our monthly newsletter full of recipes and workshop updates.