FOOD COOPERATIVE MANAGER - Job Description
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The jobs at your average food co-op are very similar to the jobs a person would have at a supermarket or large food store. Most co-ops have department managers and buyers, and in some cases a manager also does the buying for his or her department, whether it is produce (vegetables), beauty aids, or baked goods. A good buyer/manager needs to know what is and what isn't in stock. Additionally, he or she also needs to know when the out-of-stock items will be available again. Department managers report to a general manager who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the co-op, which can include processing payroll and dealing with employee concerns.
Vicki Reich is the food buyer at the Moscow Food Co-op located in Moscow, Idaho. She began as a volunteer there and worked her way up to her current position, stopping along the way to perform the jobs of maintenance person, delicatessen worker, baker, cashier, and nonfood buyer over the course of two years. “My job grew as the store grew,” Reich says. “I used to work alone, but as the co-op expanded, I needed the help of the two assistants I have now.”
The best way to get your foot in the door is to volunteer, and most co-ops require that their members do so anyway to enjoy the benefits of their memberships. By working as a co-op volunteer, you have the opportunity to become familiar with the routine. This exposure will make obtaining a paid position easier.
The lowest-paid positions at co-ops usually involve the receiving and preparation of food, such as food servers (if the co-op has a delicatessen or bakery), and stock workers, who unload the shipments that buyers order. The next level of paid workers includes cashiers, cooks, bakers, assistant managers, and buyers. Since co-ops are very democratic in the way they are run, most employees have spent their share of time working in lower-level positions before graduating to better-paying jobs.
“The general manager of our co-op started as a volunteer,” Reich relates. “She worked her way up by performing well and having the desire to move up through the ranks.”
Another benefit of working at a co-op is the sense of community that helps to create a friendly and enjoyable atmosphere. Since co-ops are not run solely for profit, the employees and customers may enjoy greater control over the products they want to buy.
Many co-op employees are able to make a living wage that may be slightly less than some other food-related jobs, but the democratic principles that a co-op is based on and the fair and friendly environment are a welcome change for many people. Reich adds, “If you can handle not being a millionaire and enjoy what you do, then I call that success.”