Sharing + Saving = Buying Club

What’s a buying club?

A buying club is an alternative way of purchasing food and other goods, instead of buying individually at a store or online. A buying club is a great way to share Equal Exchange products with family members, friends, neighbors, and members of your congregation.  

Buying clubs offer you the opportunity to make a real difference for small farmers around the world while paying less for your favorite organic and Fair Trade foods in bulk.

Order together and get staples like coffee, tea, chocolate, olive oil and more at low wholesale case prices. We’ll ship orders of $75 or more for free.

We’re not talking about ordering a pallet’s worth of coffee!  Coffee, tea, olive oil and most snacks come 6 items to a case. Chocolate bars are packaged 12 bars to a case.

Buying clubs

  • make financial sense
  • build community and an alternative trading network
  • minimize your environmental impact by using less packaging
  • achieve a lower carbon footprint by consolidating shipments
  • are ideal if you don’t live near a natural foods store or food coop and want access to affordable, high quality, ethically sourced products

1.Gather your group  

You’ll want to limit it to people that live locally enough that they can pick up their orders in one location or you can deliver to them easily. We recommend starting with family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or members of your congregation.  Call or send out an email to people who you think are most likely to be interested.

Reach out to

  • Family or friends
  • Members of your gardening club, book club, or congregation
  • Neighbors
  • Co-workers

You might say something like,

Dear Friend or Family Member, 

“ I’m gathering a group of people who are interested in sharing orders of organic and fairly traded staples from Equal Exchange and thought you might be interested. They offer high-quality small farmer grown coffee, tea, chocolate and snacks in case quantities that are small enough that we can share and get lower pricing than what we see in most stores. Since many of us shop online separately, this can also reduce our environmental impact by limiting the number of small shipments and lots of packaging materials. I enjoy this coffee/tea/chocolate (at church/office/home etc) and I feel good supporting small-scale farming families through buying from Equal Exchange, an independent worker-owned cooperative. If you’re interested you can take a look at the order form/product list and let me know if a buying club would be helpful to you.”

Pro Tip: Host a coffee or chocolate tasting when you introduce the idea of the buying club. Not only will it make it easier for folks to decide what to order, but we’ve found that once people taste the quality, they are likely to want a regular supply! Use these key talking points to show why supporting an alternative trading model is beneficial to farmers, consumers and the environment.

2. Get organized 

Determine who will be responsible for

  • Taking individual orders from members/monitoring an order spreadsheet and collecting them into one master order (by cases)
  • Placing your group’s order with Equal Exchange and paying for the order up front by credit card
  • Distributing products to members or establishing pick up time & location
  • Collecting payment from members

3. Plan an order

Choose which items you’ll offer from our wholesale case list. Buying clubs must purchase a full case of a particular product, so for your first order, we suggest limiting the range of orderable items to some of the most popular products for simplicity. We recommend offering 5-10 items maximum, unless you find that people are requesting their own favorite products by the full case quantity and don’t need to share.

  •  Requiring pre-payment, at least on your first order, is a good way to make sure that the members of your buying club are serious about participating responsibly.
  • Equal Exchange’s best sellers include:

    Pro Tip: Creating a Google spreadsheet helps keep things organized and all participants can edit it in live time. 

  • State a firm cut-off date when you will be placing the order.
  • List your pricing. We recommend rounding up from the product’s unit cost to the next whole dollar to avoid change (ie, instead of $6.90 per 12oz package of French Roast charge $7.00 a bag).
    • Determine if you will order bi-weekly, monthly, etc. so people can plan ahead how much to order at a given time. 
    • Decide what your policy will be if people don’t order enough to fill up a whole case worth of a certain product. You may decide to hold off on ordering that item. Alternatively, if you decided to round up to the next dollar (ie charging $7 a bag of French Roast), if you order a full case and have leftover products, the mark-up would cover some of the extra costs. You could donate the extra products to someone in need or keep them for yourself as “payment” for taking on the job of organizing the orders.

    4. Place the Order

    Gather individual orders from club members or check your spreadsheet to make sure you have enough orders to order full the case unit of measure of each product (12 bars of chocolate, 6 bags of coffee, 6 boxes of tea, etc). You’ll pay Equal Exchange in full by credit card at the time of your order.

    Pro Tip:  There’s no minimum order, but purchase $75 worth of products to get free shipping.

    Then, place your master order with Equal Exchange:

    • Online: shop.equalexchange.coop If you already have a church or organizational account with Equal Exchange using your email address you can use this, but if you’d prefer to set up a new account to keep orders and payments separate we recommend this. Just go to “Log in” and put in email, name your organization “ie Anderson Road Buying Club” and select your denomination under “coffee project” if applicable. You can choose your preferred shipping address which can be residential or a business.
    • By phone: 774-776-7366 9am-5pm M-F Eastern
    • By email: communityorders@equalexchange.coop

    5. Distribute & Enjoy

    When products arrive at the designated pick-up location, have a consistent system for distribution.  If you did not require members to pre-pay, collect payment when people pick up their orders, using cash or a check (made out to the person who paid for the order).  A person-to-person payment app like Venmo or PayPal is an easy system to use for those that are tech-savvy and want to avoid handling cash and making change

    Not sure buying clubs are for you?

    Read why Edith Stacey-Huber, who runs a successful buying club, chose to start one. Maybe you have some of the same goals?

“The first buying club I started was in the early ‘90s. That club was started out of financial necessity, and as I look back, I was motivated by my view of a monopolized grocery system. There were very few stores, thus the lack of competition didn’t evoke any savings to the consumer. I was also looking for organic food, real food, and there were only two small health food stores in the city.

Since my relatives were farmers it wasn’t outside the box for me to seek out food from farms. Seeing the commitment of our local organic farmers to grow food the way they do, some for years, barely making it, but still staying committed to what they know is right–I couldn’t turn a blind eye to that. I found a small natural foods distributor, gathered a few friends and the first club was born.

Once I started procuring food this way, there was no turning back.  The club model has changed over the years with the obliteration of small distributors, and my deeper awareness of food justice and buying local, but I was always either a key member, treasurer, coordinator, or founder of a club.

Our current club model has taken bolder steps to remove ourselves completely from the commercial food system. Personally, our family has a direct connection to our food and I would say 80 percent of the food we eat, we know who grew it or the source it comes from.

I think consumers have the potential to hold all of the power, if we organize, become diligent in our efforts and become truly informed voters and active in spearheading the changes we want to see.”

  • Edith Stacey-Huber is passionate about food. She is the creator of the food buying club Authentic Provisions just outside of Ann Arbor, Mich. Authentic Provisions aims to reconnect people in the community to the food, land and farmers who sustain them, through collective purchasing outside of the corporate food system. Her quote above has been excerpted from a longer interview with Edith  on our blog from May 2017.

About The Author

Bethany McGinnis

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