The activities of the consumer co-operatives are just as broad as on the map. They not only have large supermarkets offering the entire range of goods, but also small and micro-shops, especially in rural areas. The large supermarkets are important institutions, especially in cities and densely populated regions, and are also important for the co-operative from an economic point of view. For the local people, on the other hand, the small shops often play a more crucial role. In places where no other food or economic operator is present due to limited profitability, consumer co-operatives are there and active for the people. This is because co-operatives are an integral part of the local community. In Germany, for example, a number of new consumer co-operatives are being set up to run small village shops based on the principle of self-help and self-responsibility.
Apart from large and small, the business is expanding into new forms and media. Apart from brick and mortar, retail is progressively growing through e-commerce.
Our model is based on people. We are focused on the needs of our members / consumers. For us this is not a slogan for marketing, for us it is part of our DNA because the consumer-members are our owners. Every company must align its business philosophy not only with the customer but also with the owner(s). For us, this is the same so it goes without saying that we pay special attention to consumer interests.
We do this through our own brands, where we consider safety, sustainability and quality. We do this through aiming at maximum consumer information so that consumers can make informed choices. For us, this naturally includes listening to the wishes of consumers and their experiences and, if necessary, adjusting our range locally if feedback or tests indicate that other goods are required. Fair B2B relations is very dear to us and something we uphold in our operations. The issue of unfair trading practices, which has been widely discussed at EU level in recent years, has not been the focus of consumer co-operatives. This shows that we do not just claim to deal fairly with our partners. It certainly has a lot to do with our local roots. After all, our members are not only our customers, but can also be workers for our suppliers.
We are proud of our members‘ success across the Continent.
Why are we so successful? Because we have a special economic model. We run our business according to principles and values, we are oriented towards people and the benefits they derive from purchasing from us, we have a unique ownership structure and we pay attention to the community and sustainability.
Our roots lie in the founding of the Rochdale Pioneers of, near Manchester in the UK. Out of necessity, these pioneers founded the first viable consumer co-operative in the form of self-help. Over the years we have adapted and modernised their ideas and values, but at the core it is still the same ideas that make us what we are.
Our democratic structures give consumers a voice on the ground. They can participate in the decision-making. Not only about what they buy, but also in meetings and so get involved with their wishes. Of course, consumer co-operatives are also enterprises with management bodies that take the decisions - co-operative does not mean grassroots democracy, but participatory democracy. Such co-determination and democratic processes help consumer co-operatives to be close to their members.
Sustainability is the cornerstone of our activities, as we emphasize its economic and social facets on par with the environmental dimension. Business-wise decisions are made with the utmost sense of balancing profitability with members’ interests, which is why our movement prides itself with 176 years of history. In a consumer co-operative, the profit is a means to an end and not the ultimate aim. In particular, we use our surpluses to maximise benefits so that members and customers can make even better use of our products and services. This is possible because we operate a different business model.
Sustainability also encompasses healthy lifestyles and responsible consumption. Recent member initiatives go a long way to this end, namely the calorie counter of the S Group, the food traceability programme of Coop Italia or with the UK societies efforts in fighting food waste. This consumer information is very visible to us - it keeps alive our roots as a consumer organisation with an educational focus.
Our track record as champions of sustainability makes consumer co-operatives ever more relevant in this day and age. However, to remain so in the future, we must continuously innovative and maximise our offer to our members. Two words – flexible solutions. In all senses of the word – digital, physical, even ethical.
Life in the XXI century is all about the internet of things, which naturally includes technology and mobile apps. Consumers expect an upgraded shopping experience, be it more exciting or made more time-efficient.
Our members constantly push themselves towards innovation. Coop Italia had already charted the future in 2015 with their concept Supermarket of the Future, which is already being rolled out as of 2018. With a highly networked supermarket equipped with sensors and screens, it informs customers even better about what they are buying, the product’s ingredients and their origin. Coop Norway and Coop Sweden are already operating manless stores, making shopping possible around the clock and allowing the maintenance of stores in rural areas with limited profitability. Whether this can really be a model for the future remains to be seen. It will certainly also depend on how honest the shoppers are, or whether there will be further technical developments to ensure correct consumer behaviour. Augmented Reality can also play a role, for example, to visualise product information, as Coop Sweden is testing at the moment.
In connection with the use of Big Data, we can make good use of our special structure. The use of data is always sensitive. We know a lot about our members and our customers through the data we collect. We use this knowledge to improve our offer to the consumer-member and do not sell our data to third parties. Trust is our model’s most priced asset and we never betray our members. We must and will continue to modernise our work so that we can continue to be there for our members and for society in the future.
Thank you for your attention and stay healthy!