A cooperative of farm shops: 87 dairy and fruit farmers and 2 garden centres focusing on purchase and sale of farm-products for the members, logistics and promotional support.
Key words: Farmers’ cooperative, collective marketing model, short supply chains, regional products
Name of the initiative? Country-shop Cooperation (Landwinkel Coöperatie)
Country The Netherlands
What kind of initiative Farming/production, Marketing
The Country-shop is a cooperative of 89 farm shops: 87 of farmers (esp. dairy farmers [± 40% of the members] and fruit growers [± 55% of the members]) and 2 of garden centres. The main activities are: purchase and sale of farm-products for the members, logistics (from and to the country shops through its own distribution centre) and promotional support. It is a cooperative franchise organisation where the owners (the participating country shops) are also the buyers. The products mainly are produced (and processed) by the affiliated farmers (particularly cheese, processed fruits and juices); in addition, some products are purchased elsewhere.
“The advantage and strength are in the short chain.”
The advantage and strength are in the short chain. Because it is a little organisation (compared to e.g. supermarket chains), the margins must be higher than in these chains. The margin for the cooperative is between 15 and 20 % (we keep this margin as low as possible) and in the farm shops it is ± 35 % (much higher than in supermarkets). The target for country shops is to have at least ± 300 customers per week (because of logistic efficiency) and must meet certain quality standards. The initial investment for a new country shop is ± €75,000 (for farmers with an already existing shop this investment can be lower). Many country shops combine farming and the shop with other activities such as catering or care. The trade turnover of the cooperation is ± €5 million; the consumer turnover in the shops is ± €25 – €30 million.
The following mission has been formulated: the Country shop cooperation wants to improve the quality of life in the countryside by offering a wide range of traditional farm and regional products, and creating citizen involvement in the landscape, farm and its products. The Country Shop cooperative also strives for cooperation with consumer and social organisations.
“…the Country shop cooperation wants to improve the quality of life in the countryside by offering a wide range of traditional farm and regional products, and creating citizen involvement in the landscape, farm and its products.”
The cooperation has a team of 9 employees (± 6.5 fte’s). Pieterjan, as director, is responsible for the overall management and strategy development. The cooperation has a board of 5 persons that determines the main lines of the strategy. The members elect the board and every region is represented as far as possible by a board member. Furthermore, there are 6 regional farmer-business-clubs that meet about 3 times a year. Good communication between the board, the regional clusters and individual members is crucial to respond to the wishes of the customer.
“Good communication between the board, the regional clusters and individual members is crucial to respond to the wishes of the customer.”
The Country shop cooperation was founded in 2007. Already existing country shops (some of them already organised in smaller regional organisations), wanted to develop their businesses further by exchanging products, getting a wider range of products in their shops and a better and more professional promotion. We started with 39 shops.
The initiators were very important. They built the organisation from scratch. It has been a step-by-step development; growth of the number of members, professionalisation of the organisation, a larger product range and a better image and promotion.
It was initiated by some active farmers and fruit growers with a farm shop who wanted to work together. Some support has been provided by, among others, the farmers union (LTO), RABO-bank (some subsidy), SPN (StreekProducten Nederland, Regional Products Netherlands; an organisation that promotes regional products and is the holder of the quality mark Recognised Regional Product Erkend Streekproduct), and by several advisors.
“The first thing that enabled collaboration was active initiators, real go-getters, who invested a lot of time and who really believed in it.”
The first thing that enabled collaboration was active initiators, real go-getters, who invested a lot of time and who really believed in it. And secondly, of course, a good commercial model that matched with the commercial interests and wishes of existing farm shops.
We started from scratch without any starting capital. The members contributed €2500 euros in share capital. Such a bottom-up farmers’ organisation can only be set up and developed step by step.
“Such a bottom-up farmers’ organisation can only be set up and developed step by step.”
New challenges are: more entrepreneurs with country shops (esp. in parts of The Netherlands where there are no or little country shops).; always to do even better what you are already doing, especially better marketing; keep asking ourselves how market opportunities are developing, whether our organisation model is still good, etc.
So what have we learned? You must have people who really believe in it and carry on.
“You must keep innovating…”
You must keep innovating. The strength must come from the entrepreneurs themselves, they must do it; it must remain an own farmers’ club.
Regarding the employees: work with a self-organising team with multi-functional people. The team of employees must have their own room to do business but must remain in good contact with the members.
“…sometimes it is boat paddling against the tide but if it succeeds it is very satisfying.”
I like being part of a group of active entrepreneurs with a shared idea; sometimes it is boat paddling against the tide but if it succeeds it is very satisfying.
Repository compiled by: Country-Shop Cooperative