Food Co-op Development Model – “4 in 3”

Through over a decade of use, this "4 in 3" model has proved to be the basis of successful retail food co-op development.

The Four Cornerstones in Three Stages Development Model (4 in 3) was developed by Cooperative Development Services and members of the CDS Consulting Co-op. The development model is a structure for planning and organizing the many steps involved in starting a new food co-op. It can be used by co-ops of all kinds. Food Co-op Initiative uses the 4 in 3 model to help new food co-op organizers make the right investments in learning, planning, and investment.

4 in 3 development model

The model is based upon the four cornerstones of vision, talent, capital, and systems that are each within three stages of food co-op development: organizing, feasibility and planning, and finally implementation. The four cornerstones and three stages comprise a framework for developing a cooperative retail food business. This process recognizes the need for support systems along the journey and helps organizers know when they should engage professional support.

Four Cornerstones

The four cornerstones in the Food Co-op Development Model are Vision, Capital, Talent, and Systems. Each is critical to the success of a new cooperative.

I. Vision: “The articulation of hopes and dreams of a founding group”

  • Broad, long-term, inspiring and
  • Specific and local
  • Refined as the emerging co-op moves through the development stages
  • Includes the co-op as a solution to a common problem or need
  • Defines core values and purpose
  • Understanding the process of developing a food coop

II. Talent: “Those invested in the co-op’s success”

  • Champion(s)
  • Steering Committee or Task force
  • Board of Directors
  • Working committees
  • Professionals and consultants
  • Developer
  • Management (Development Project Manager, Facility Project Manager, General Manager)

III. Capital: “Financial resources necessary for all stages of development”

  • Organizing
  • Feasibility
  • Business Planning
  • Implementation
  • Sustaining (recover and reinvest)
  • Internal resources are used to leverage external resources

IV. Systems: “Organized, integrated, coordinated, and interdependent methods”

  • Legal
  • Governing
  • Planning & assessment
  • Communication and Marketing
  • Finance & Accounting
  • Operations
  • Commitment to continuous improvement
  • Systems become more complex through the stages

Three Development Stages

Stage 1: Organizing
Emerging Co-op: Brings about the organization

  • One or more people start with an idea
  • Recognition of a common problem or need that a food co-op could meet
  • Includes
    • Convening a core group
    • Assessing common interest and needs
    • Designating leadership
    • Building a shared vision
    • Committing time and money
  • Brings about the organization

Stage 2: Feasibility & Planning
Emerging Co-op: Brings about the business plan

  • An organized group with commitment, interest and capacity
  • Assesses market potential and internal readiness
  • Includes
    • Feasibility – deeper assessments of financial, market and organizational capacity
    • Planning – a business plan for financing and operations
  • Builds commitment and capacity (both leadership and management)
  • Brings about a secured site for the operation

Stage 3: Implementation
Emerging Co-op: Brings about the open store and satisfaction of owner/member needs

  • Demonstrated capacity in all the cornerstones
  • Includes
    • Pre-construction
    • Construction & Renovation
    • Preparation for Opening
    • Sustaining – First Year and Beyond
  • Brings about the satisfaction of member needs

For a more detailed explanation of the 4 in 3 development model, view these two workshops recorded at Up & Coming food co-op conference in 2013: