Nobody likes being lied to. In times where horse meat is happily equated with beef and so-called organic food is actually produced in large-scale factories and under horrific circumstances, trust and faith in food retailers have suffered severely. Even kids like 11-year-old Birke Baehr begin to question the world’s food system and industrial agriculture.
As a consequence, people are now taking matters into their own hands: by combining efforts and organizing their own grocery stores, so-called food coops. The reasons behind this movement are manifold.
Where does it all come from?
Firstly, it is a well-known fact that Austria’s food retailing industry is one of the most concentrated in Europe with Rewe, Spar and Hofer at the top of the pyramid; their rapid growth in the past 40 years has also led to the widespread extinction of small shops, the so-called “Greißler”, all over the country. Gone are the days when people knew exactly which farmer was responsible for a certain product.
Additionally, more and more people today are ready to pay a significantly higher price for products that are organic, fair-trade and ecological/sustainable than for the same products without those characteristics; but in doing that, they also want to make sure they actually get what they are paying for.
Last but not least, these customers are interested in deciding for themselves where the groceries they consume on a daily basis come from; having the ability to choose and maybe even negotiate prices on their own gives them not only freedom, but also a certain satisfaction.
Taking matters into their own hands
Enter food coops: grocery stores organized as a cooperative and effectively run by their members – individuals or private households. Food coops typically offer organic food and promote products that have been produced and distributed following guidelines of fair trade and sustainability. These goods are procured directly at local farms. Food coops manage and organize themselves: At the food coop Möhrengasse in Vienna, for example, members pay a monthly fee to cover rent and other incurred costs and regular meetings take place to discuss the sourcing and acquisition of products. Ordering on a weekly basis, members can plan ahead and thus make sure to not waste any money or groceries. Vienna already has several food coops, some more established and some only in the early stages; other cities are not far behind. Foodcoops.at offers a current list of all projects (both up-and-running and in development).
Is it really time to turn one’s back on established supermarkets and go straight to the source? Judging from the growing number of food coops in Austria, it certainly looks like it is quickly becoming a viable option.