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Co-operative retailers had a 20% share of the British grocery market in the 1950s, but have lost ground to supermarkets in recent years and seen their share shrink to closer to 6%.
So not all is well.
A pal of mine in Leicester - which has always been a hotbed of Cooperativism - regaled me with tales of the bitter battles a hundred years ago or so between the shoe-making Coops in Leicester owned by staff and by customers.
My experience of the retail Coops in London, btw, is of almost universally abysmal customer service etc etc.
"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed"
Over the last decade or so it has been marketing itself as an ethical retailer. It was the first to offer ethical banking, and is still, as far as I know, unique in being the only large retailer to use only fair-trade ingredients in its own-brand coffee and block chocolate.
It was a leader in improving animal welfare standards (not to the standard I'd like to see, but any improvement is better than none) and, as one of the UK's largest farmers and dairies, has refused to take part in trials of BST (milk-yield improving hormone) or to process the milk so produced. Co-op ethical statement here. It's also an underexploited up-and-running network for the distribution of local food.
By pure coincidence, I visited a Co-op 'superstore' this afternoon. It was large, though not on the scale of some of the behemoths built by competitors, but what was really impressive was the effort taken to set it back from the road and allow it to disappear into the landscape.
Most co-ops are smaller and urban. Prime Tesco Metro sites. We need to cherish them and use them.
(And, apparently, last year,
the 'divi' was reinstated. No more excuses?)
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