2021 Cooperative Governance Research Initiative: Food Sector Findings

In 2021, the UW Center for Cooperatives (UWCC) launched the Cooperative Governance Research Initiative (CGRI) with the goal of generating robust data and insights about governance practices within and across U.S. cooperative sectors. The 2021 CGRI survey yielded responses from 500 cooperatives. Of those 500 cooperatives, over 100 were retail grocery cooperatives, also known as food co-ops.

Food co-ops apply many of the same governance practices as other sectors, yet they face industry-specific challenges such as increased market competition, thin margins, and pressure to deliver value to members and society in many dimensions. We hope this report inspires reflection and conversations that will help food co-ops achieve their potential today and into the future.

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Key Takeaways from the Food Sector Report

This report highlights the dynamics and trends shaping governance practices in food co-ops. Some key findings include:

  • On average, food co-ops have more diverse boards than CGRI participants in every dimension; however, they are less confident they have the right mix of directors and that demographics of the board reflect the membership. This lack of confidence is reflected in the finding that most food co-ops plan to prioritize board diversity in the next three years.
  • When it comes to board recruitment, food co-ops are more likely to use a nominating committee than CGRI respondents as a whole. On average, food co-ops with nominating committees are more confident they have the right mix of directors than those without.
  • Food co-ops are more likely than other CGRI participants to offer a diverse range of voting options and to hold open board meetings. Despite these efforts and the widespread use of strategies to promote member participation, food co-ops reported lower turnout at the last election and annual meeting and less confidence the board understands member needs.