Types of Cooperatives

There are several different types of cooperatives, based on their membership and purpose. All can serve our community. Cooperatives are most often defined by who owns them, or who the members are.


Consumer Cooperatives

Consumer cooperatives are owned by the their customers, and are organized to provide products and services to their member-owners.

For example, a group of parents might decide they need childcare with unusual hours due to their work schedules. They work together to create a childcare cooperative, which they own. The member-owners can contribute their own time to the cooperative, or they may hire childcare workers as employees of the cooperative.

High Country Biofuels is a consumer cooperative in Boone that makes biodiesel fuel available to its member-owners.

Consumer cooperatives are the most common type in the US and also include

  • Credit unions
  • Housing cooperatives
  • Cooperative grocery stores
  • Electric utility cooperatives
Producer Cooperatives

Producer cooperatives are generally made up of independent farmers, entrepreneurs, artists or other producers who join together to meet a common need, such as marketing or purchasing services to their member-owners.

For example, farmers might create a cooperative to share the cost of processing their produce or meat. The kraut factory in Boone was this kind of producer cooperative.

Main Street Gallery and Hands Gallery are artist-owned cooperative retail spaces in Blowing Rock and Boone. Member-owners of these cooperatives share the cost of their store, and share time working in it. This gives them more time to spend on their art.

Walking Fish is a fishermen’s cooperative on the North Carolina coast that markets its catch through a community-supported fishery selling the member-owners’ catch to the Triangle area.

Worker Cooperatives

Worker cooperatives are businesses that are entirely owned and operated by the people who work for them. Because the workers are also the owners, they decide everything about how the company runs. In the US, there are worker cooperatives ranging in size from just a few member-owners to thousands.

Opportunity Threads is a worker-owned cut-and-sew cooperative in Morganton, NC, and is self-managed by its 20 worker owners. The company is one of the founding members of the Carolina Textile district.

The US Federation of Worker Cooperatives (USFWC) and their non-profit Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI) provides support to the cooperatives and cooperative developers who are its members. High Country Cooperation is a member of the USFWC.

One way that worker cooperatives can form is through conversion, when an owner sells a business to the workers.

Multistakeholder Cooperatives

Multistakeholder cooperatives include multiple types of member-owners in the same business.

Weaver Street Market in the Triangle is a cooperative grocery store owned by both the people who shop there and the people who work there.

Agricultural cooperative Fifth Season serves the local food system in the 7 Rivers region of western Wisconsin. Member-owners include workers, farmers, processors, distributors, and buyers.

Multistakeholder cooperatives can be complicated, especially because the interests of different groups may be in conflict. Consumer-owners of a grocery cooperative might want to keep prices as low as possible, but this would mean lower wages for workers. When both consumers and workers are owners of the cooperative business, they have to work out these differencs. But many have done so successfully, because they also benefit from working together.

Social Care Cooperatives

Social care cooperatives provide social services such as education, health, or the care of children, elderly and disabled people, or putting unemployed people to work. These services may be provided through a variety of ownership structures, such as consumer, worker, or multistakeholder. But whatever the type, a major purpose of the cooperative is to meet one or more social needs.

For example, eldercare cooperatives might be owned by seniors and their families who are the consumers of care, by workers who provide the care, by the community, which wants to be sure elders are cared for, or some combination of these in a multistakeholder model.

Italy has some 7000 social care cooperatives, which provide the majority of social services in the country.

Community Cooperatives

Community cooperatives are made up of people who live in and represent the needs of the community, however this is defined.

After many years of failing to attract a full-service grocery store to their neighborhood to replace the Winn-Dixie which left in 1988, Renaissance Community Coop in Northeast Greensboro formed to provide a “community solution to a community’s problem.” In addition to serving the need for healthy food at affordable process, the store is committed to providing dignified jobs and locally-sourced food to build the local economy.