Co-ops in New Zealand

Today, the co-ops in New Zealand are predominantly producer co-ops, with approximately half of the New Zealand Cooperatives Association full members being agriculturally based. The association reports that "in 2008, the combined revenue of cooperatives and mutuals was over $42 billion", and that New Zealand's single largest business, Fonterra Cooperative Group, is a cooperative. Other large co-operatives in New Zealand include: Foodstuffs, The Co-operative Bank, and Plumbing World. Although there are many consumer cooperatives around the world, some being very large (e.g. The Co-operative Group, owned by over 6 million UK consumers), there are currently few consumer cooperatives in New Zealand. But this has not always been the case.

History of consumer co-ops in New Zealand

The first consumer co-op in New Zealand was established by settlers at Riwaka in the Nelson area, in 1844. Subsequently, there were surges in consumer co-ops at various times until the end of World War 2, usually during periods of economic recovery, although often the cooperatives were short-lived. Between 1889 and 1894, 20 cooperatives were registered, with only one of those still being in existence by 1914. After the war, in around 1921, there was another peak in the formation of co-ops. And after the Depression of the 1930s, again cooperatives were formed during the recovery, with 26 co-ops in existence in 1937, formed by 8000 members. In the 1940's, a Hutt Valley consumer co-op was formed, followed by other co-ops in other housing estates. Only the Hutt Valley co-op continued trading until 1969. Faced with competition from chain stores and other for-profit competitors, the co-ops formed after World War 2 have not survived. The last sizeable consumer co-operative in New Zealand, the Manawatu Co-op, which had 34,000 members in 1981, went into receivership in 1988.

Consumer Co-ops in New Zealand Today

Although there are many food co-ops overseas, some very large, there are currently few consumer food co-ops in NZ. The following, mostly buying clubs, are listed on the Transition Towns website (http://www.transitiontowns.org.nz):

As far as we are aware, the Harbour Co-op is the only grocery-store type of multistakeholder co-op running in New Zealand at this time. Information on this page was sourced from:

  • New Zealand Cooperative Association: http://www.nz.coop
  • The Co-operative Group: http://www.co-operative.coop
  • “Practical Utopians” : Rochdale Consumer Co-operatives in Australia and New Zealand - by Nikola Balnave and Greg Patmore. Published in Labour History, Number 95, November 2008. Available online from the Christchurch Library.