• Director Dispatches

11 Co-ops You Didn’t Know Were Co-ops

People act like the sharing economy is some completely new market phenomenon. But the ethos of the sharing economy (shared work, shared ownership, and shared benefit) is embedded in the cooperative model.

Basically, co-ops were the sharing economy before it was cool.

Co-ops are hiding in plain sight. They might be the bakery down the road or your local coffee purveyor. They could be a worker-owned brew-pub or a seemingly faceless international company.

When you really start looking for cooperatives, it turns out they’re all over the place. Some co-ops make their status a big part of their branding. Some just let the economic strength of their co-op work quietly behind the scenes.

Here are some great examples of co-ops you didn’t know were co-ops:

Sunkist Growers is a membership cooperative of more than 6,000 citrus growers in California and Arizona. It’s the largest fresh fruit shipper in the U.S., and one of the largest land-owners in California.

Ocean Spray is cooperative of more than 700 family-owned cranberry and grapefruit farms across the U.S. They invented cran-apple juice and craisins.

True Value Hardware is a retailer-owned cooperative with more than 5,000 member-store-owners. Each hardware store is independently owned and operated. True Value members are supplied by 12 wholesale distribution centers around the country.

Ace Hardware is another retailer-owned cooperative with more than 4,600 stores in 50 states and 70 countries. It’s not a franchise, so each store looks different. The company was named after the ace fighter pilots of World War I.

Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) The outdoor gear retailer is the nation’s largest consumer cooperative with about 132 stores. It’s made Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” list every year since 1998. James Whittaker, the first American to climb Mt. Everest, was REI’s first full-time employee.

Cabot Creamery is a dairy co-operative made up of 1,200 family-owned dairy-farms in the Northeast. It was the first dairy to be designated as a B Corp.

Land O'Lakes is a Minnesota agricultural dairy cooperative made up of 1,000 cooperative dairy farms and about 3,200 independent producers. It’s one of the largest producers of butter and cheese in the U.S.

Tillamook County Creamery is another agricultural cooperative, with about 110 Oregon dairy farms. The co-op stopped using artificial bovine growth hormones since 2005, going up against agri-biotech giant Monsanto.

Best Western is one of the largest hotel chains in the world, and it’s a co-operative (well, a “nonprofit membership organization”) of more than 4,000 independently owned and operated hotels in 100 countries. It was the one of the first hotel chains to offer guests internet access, way back in 1995.

Sunbeam Bread is a franchised product owned by the [Quality Bakers of America Co-operative]( Its member-owners). Its member-owners are some of the nation’s leading bakery wholesalers, who are licensed to use the popular Sunbeam logo on their products.

The Associated Press is a nonprofit news cooperative owned by its member newspapers. It operates more than 240 bureaus worldwide, in about 120 countries, and has a staff of 3,200. The AP has won 51 Pulitzer prizes, including 31 for photography.

Sara Horowitz As the founder of Freelancers Union, Sara has been a voice for freelancers for over two decades.