There are three main types of co-op:
- Producer co-ops provide goods or services to members who are involved in producing products, such as farmers. This is the predominant type of co-op in NZ, e.g. Fonterra, CRT.
- Worker co-ops are owned and controlled on a democratic basis by their employees.
- Consumer co-ops provide goods or services used primarily for personal consumption.
Some co-ops may operate as multistakeholder co-ops, combining 2 or more of the above co-op types. The Harbour Co-op is a multistakeholder co-op with four types of shareholders - Household (consumer), Supporting (investment), Employee (worker), and Institutional purchaser (large consumer).
The goal of a consumer co-op is to meet needs, rather than generate profits; so a consumer co-op can often serve members at a low cost, or provide higher quality products and services. Consumer co-ops have been set up to meet many consumer needs. For example:
- credit unions profiding financial services,
- utility co-ops providing electricity and telephone services,
- housing co-ops providing affordable places to live,
- child care co-ops
- heath care co-ops
- food co-ops, providing affordable and/or quality food
Consumer co-ops can be small - just a single store - or large enterprises. The Cooperative Group in the U.K. has over 6 million members, and offers goods/services in all of the following areas: electrical, food, banking, travel, pharmacy, funeralcare, insurance, legal services, and motors. Its "Blowing in the Wind" advert shows many of the areas (both products/services, and ethical projects) it is involved in: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YHzBltFKHAw
Food co-ops often focus on organics, wholefoods, or bulk foods. Food co-ops often take the form of grocery stores, but can also be run as pre-order buying clubs where people come together to buy food in bulk, thus getting discounts for the members of the club.