Fredericton Co-op store marks half a century in business

Fredericton Co-op store marks half a century in business

The Fredericton Co-op first opened its doors in 1974, and has only grown in membership since then.

More than 10,000 families now call themselves members, said store manager Paul King.

“We are here because of the support of our membership,” he said.

King has worked in grocery stores since he was packing groceries as a 16-year-old at a Co-op store in Labrador City.

“It’s an amazing career,” King says of his life in the grocery business, working his way up to store manager in Fredericton.

“It’s a family. You believe in the format, you believe in what it does.”

Paul King
Paul King is the manager of the Fredericton Co-op, and has worked in Co-op stores since he was 16. (CBC/Shane Folwer)

A Co-op store is no ordinary store. As a co-operative, only members can shop there by paying into the store and becoming a partial owner.

“If you become a member, you become an owner,” King said.

Shoppers pay $10 to join, as well as two per cent on all goods purchased until the sum reaches $1,000, which goes to a member’s share capital as an investment in the store.

There’s also a service fee of $1 a week that goes toward overhead costs like maintenance and staffing.

King said the membership model hasn’t changed in more than 50 years.

Shopping carts
Shoppers must be a member of the Co-op to shop there, and pay into the business in a special payment plan that hasn’t changed in 50 years. (Sam Farley/CBC)

As prices have risen at grocery stores across Canada, King said Co-op stores are always trying to improve to better serve members.

“What has changed is the landscape, meaning new players into the market, new competition getting bigger. It makes us smarter, it gives us more opportunities to offer more to our members,” he said.

“It’s never easy in the retail sector, but we believe we’re holding our own and we continue to grow.”

He said the store employs up to 100 employees depending on the time of year. He said the store also helps keep prices low at other stores in the city.

Fredericton co-op
King said they’re always trying to meet the needs of customers by offering a wide variety of products. (Sam Farley/CBC)

An ‘invisible alternative’

Karen Miner, management director of the international centre for co-operative management at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, says co-op stores of all sorts offer an “invisible alternative” when it comes to shopping.

“It’s a bit of a systemic problem in that most people remain quite ignorant about co-ops being in their neighbourhoods and being part of what makes their community strong,” Miner said.

“And the more people we can have realize that, I guess from my perspective, the better.”

Miner said co-op grocery stores are beneficial for members because surplus profits all go into the store or back to members at the end of the year instead of as profits to a CEO and investors, as they would for a larger chain grocery store.

Looking down a shiny grocery story aisle
Karen Miner said the Fredericton Co-op must be doing something right to stick around for 50 years. (Sam Farley/CBC)

“So it keeps [surplus profits] all in that community to decide amongst the members what they want to do with any money that’s left at the end of each year,” she said.

Miner also said co-ops are run to suit the needs of members instead of pure profitability. While other grocery stores might pull out of rural areas because they don’t profit enough, the success of a co-op is determined by how well it meets members’ needs. 

This is the kind of success that Miner guesses the Fredericton Co-op must have achieved to have lasted so long.

“I’m going to assume since they’re celebrating 50 years that they’ve found a way to remain relevant and that they have a base of members that either are getting better prices for things or are able to source the products that they want.”