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Cooperative ‘member’ supermarkets spread across France

Cooperative supermarkets that charge membership fees and ask members to work on staff for three hours’ a month in return for cheaper goods are rising in popularity across France.

Members of these stores are clients, owners, and employees all at once, explains French news source 20 Minutes, with over 20 new such shops reportedly having opened across the country since cooperative La Louve opened in Paris one year ago.

With names such as Superquinquin, Ep’autre, and any number of iterations of the word “coop” - including Alapar Coop, Breizhicoop, La Chouette Coop, Nice Coop, Supercoop and La Coopérette, to name a few - all are currently said to be in the “testing” phase, with hopes to roll out further in the near future.

The supermarkets each have a few full-time members of staff, to organise ordering and accounts, but otherwise, all other roles are carried out by members-customers. Including signing for deliveries, stocking shelves, checkouts, service, and cleaning.

This, along with the membership fees paid allows the supermarkets to charge up to 10-20% less for normal goods, making the average weekly shop significantly cheaper than at usual supermarkets.

Fees vary, but one - Scopéli in Nantes in the Loire-Atlantique, which has 700 members at the time of writing - charges €50 per person, while Superquinquin in Lille allows members to choose how many €10 shares they will buy, with a minimum of 10 per person at the time of joining (equalling €100 minimum).

The stores are considered as social entreprises, meaning that some have access to public funds, but most are still relying on membership fees and bank loans to stay open, and still appear to be far from making a profit.

However, some have criticised the model, with one shopkeeper - creator of the Lille organic shop Saveurs et Saisons - quoted in 20 Minutes as saying: “It’s good that the people working in these projects want to get more involved in their consumer habits. But, on the other hand, they are replacing professional workers. Our jobs are going to disappear.”

Yet, the supermarkets themselves admit that they are not for everyone.

“We are not going to replace traditional shops,” said a manager at Scopéli, also speaking to 20 Minutes. “We are simply offering an alternative. Some people are not going to want to work in a supermarket for three hours a month.”

The model is said to have been inspired by the cooperative Park Slope Coop, which first opened in New York, USA, 40 years ago.

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