Food For Thought: A National Corporate Takeover … One Co-op At A Time


By Dorothy Finnigan & Django Zeaman

What’s a Big Corporation to Do?
Let’s try a little thought experiment.

Imagine 10% of car owners refused to buy from big car manufacturers. Instead, they create car cooperatives. These car co-ops purchase from small, local car-makers. They care deeply about quality, ethics, and the total impact of production (fair wages, pollution, etc.). Members love the quality of co-op cars and love supporting the larger ecosystem of craftspeople. Members are incredibly loyal to car co-ops and join one whenever they move to a new town.

Would the big car manufacturers sit back and wish the car co-ops well or would they devise a way to conquer the last 10% of the market?

They could offer to buy co-ops, but member-owners would probably refuse to sell. And even if car co-ops did sell, everyone would know it was no longer a true co-op. Former members would refer to it as the “Ford co-op.” They’d cancel their memberships and find another “real” co-op that matched their values.

So what if one of the big car companies got creative and approached the car co-ops through a third party that could gradually influence the co-ops over a period of years?

The third party could train co-op boards to focus on the right things and think the right thoughts via videos, articles, and guest speakers. They could propose changes to the bylaws and institute a model for board governance that limited member involvement. Eventually, they could require board members to sign an agreement forcing them to “speak with one voice” [1] or resign. The third party could even structure expansion loans for co-ops or loan them money directly. During a search for a co-op General Manager, they could vet candidates and make recommendations on whom to hire.

What if that third party could do this at over 100 co-ops across the country?

Of course, car co-ops don’t exist, but food co-ops do. They make up about 10% of the natural and organic food market.

Let’s take a look at CDS Consulting and National Co+op Grocers (NCG), third parties with extensive ties to United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI), a publicly traded food corporation that does $8 billion in annual revenue. [2]

CDS Consulting 
CDS Consulting has 40 paid consultants who work with co-ops across the country. [3]

Calling them consultants sells them short, however. They’re more like an outsourcing company that advises co-ops to outsource just about everything to them. [4]

A year and a half ago, a writer in Vermont noticed her co-op was acting strange. The board became unresponsive, they wanted to change their bylaws in drastic ways for no apparent reason, and outside consultants were making appearances at membership meetings. She researched those consultants (who were from CDS) and discovered that CDS Consulting offers a wide range of services to co-ops …

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(Commoner Call photo by Mark L. Taylor. Open source and free to use with link to )