Is participating in a food co-op worth it?

Food is one of my passions in life. I like cooking (most of the time), baking, and especially eating. Each week, I try to meal-plan a little and make sure we at least have enough food to avoid eating out (even if it’s a frozen pizza).

I go through phases where I’m good at meal planning, but I also go through phases where I really stink at forethought and being prepared. Sometimes, I also get in ruts where I don’t know what to eat or just eat the same things.

One of the ways I help myself through the phases where I’m bad at meal planning is through one of my favorite food shopping hacks: buying produce through a food co-op.

What is a food co-op?

A co-op (aka cooperative) is a community of people that come together to purchase foods in bulk to save on the cost. The food co-op that I use is called Bountiful Baskets and they operate in quite a few states, mainly throughout the western half of the country.

Each basket is $18 (you can make it organic for a $10 surcharge) plus a processing/fuel surcharge that is specific to your state. You make your contribution (i.e. order your basket) at the beginning of the week on Monday or Tuesday, to be picked up on Friday or Saturday.

This purchase is non-refundable. They order the food based on what is submitted so if you can’t pick it up, your order is donated.When your pick-up time comes, you can arrive an hour early to help them set up. If you volunteer, you get extra produce!

What do you get?

Each week, you get a basket of fruit and a basket of produce. My husband picked up this week for me, so I didn’t get a picture of the pickup process, but here is a picture of our loot:

The produce we received from our food co-op contribution
We got all this for $18!

To break it down for you here is a list of what we received:

  • 2 spaghetti Squash
    • 1 @ 2 lbs. 11 oz
    • 1 @ 3 lbs. 11 oz
  • 5 Asian pears
  • 4 kiwi
  • 2 zucchini
    • 1 @ 1 lb 2 oz.
    • 1 @ 1 lb 1 oz.
  • 3 oranges
  • 5 bananas (2 lbs)
  • 4 artichoke
  • 1 head of Romaine lettuce
  • 3 red potatoes (1 lb)
  • 1 carton of grape tomatoes
  • 1 carton of strawberries

Does it save you any money?

To answer that question, I decided to start an online grocery order from King Soopers. This store is a Kroger’s affiliate and is my preferred grocery store for produce in my town. They have better quality and selection. I may have been able to save money if I had compared at multiple stores, but I don’t do that in real life because I also believe in being frugal with my time.

Here is how that came out (click to enlarge):

All of the produce would have cost $44.02 through the grocery store. I saved 60% by shopping through the food co-op!

Is it really worth it?

As with everything, there is still more to consider than just the numbers:

Pros

  • Health – When I order produce this way, I use it to help plan my meals. I feel like I eat healthier when I base my meals around a vegetable. Without it, I tend to default to starting my planning with meat or carbs. If I have the fruit around I also tend to snack on that instead of things like crackers or chips.
  • Variety – Each week is a surprise! If I pick out my produce on my own, I tend to default to the same things so this helps me cook with more variety.
  • New experiences – More than once, I’ve gotten food that I had never tried before. For example, I had never cooked with a leek before I got one through the co-op, but now I love them!
  • Seasonal – I hear all the time about how it’s better for the environment and for your health to eat seasonally, but honestly, I find it really hard to do on my own. Grocery stores import food from all over the world nowadays and it’s hard to know what was most likely grown halfway around the world. Purchasing produce this way forces me to eat what’s in season, and I don’t even have to try.

Cons

  • No control – You pay the money and get what you get. You don’t get a say in what comes that week so if you really want something that doesn’t come in the basket you will have to purchase it extra. If there is something you really don’t like, you can’t return it (but you can give it away!).
  • Variety – This is both a con as well as a pro. If you are a very picky eater or have strict dietary limitations this may not be for you.
  • Once a week pick-up – If the pick-up time doesn’t match your schedule or if you have something come up where you can’t make that time, there are no other options for getting your basket.

This is really just a review of one food co-op, and others may have different nuances that change the pros and cons, so I encourage you to check out the food co-ops that are available in your area.

I don’t order my produce this way every week, but most of the time the pros outweigh the cons. Sometimes there is just too much food for my husband and me to eat so we stretch it over two weeks or split with someone else. Overall though, it’s worth it to me!

Have you ever tried a food co-op? Let me know about your experience in the comments!

4 Comments

  1. Your co-op looks really nice; love that there’s an online portal. We have a few in our area since we’re so close to the farms. Mr. Picky Pincher used to participate in one and, while it was cool, he didn’t find it a good use of his money. I think you have to be willing to use up every scrap from the co-op to make it worth your while. Frugal Girl actually writes about this quite a lot and it’s interesting to see waste prevention in action. 🙂

    For us, I think I prefer to grow in our garden, which supplies way more food that we could ever eat, but very cheaply!

    1. I wish I was a better gardener! I think that’s definitely the cheapest way to get good quality produce. Two years ago I harvested a single red pepper and then this year I had a newborn… maybe I will try gardening again next year 😉

  2. I used a food co-op (a CSA, actually) for two summers, and I really loved the idea of it. I loved supporting a group of local farmers and paying them a living wage, regardless of the outcome. I also really liked eating seasonally and getting the opportunity to try some things I otherwise wouldn’t. But, I never found that we got the right amounts of things. We would end up with four giant zucchinis, and be overwhelmed with zucchini soup/bread/muffins/etc, and four tiny beets, which is enough for exactly nothing. This year I went back to using the farmers’ market, and I enjoyed it a lot more.

    1. I agree with you that the amounts can be hard sometimes. I guess it’s a byproduct of having no control over what you get – I have no idea what I’d do with 4 tiny beets, haha. The Farmer’s Market experience is definitely fun! I’ve just found that sometimes they can be a bit pricier.

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