Sharing + Saving = Buying Club
How does an Equal Exchange buying club work?
A buying club is an alternative way of purchasing food and other goods, instead of buying individually at a store or from an online corporate giant. 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.
You can also minimize your environmental impact but using less packaging, with fewer individual deliveries. They’re also ideal if you don’t live near a natural foods store or food coop and want access to affordable, high quality, ethically sourced products.
Order together and get staples like coffee, tea, chocolate, olive oil and more at low wholesale case prices. We’ll ship orders of $135 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.
While buying clubs certainly aren’t “one size fits all”, here are some practical suggestions to get you started.
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 a small number of 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.
You might say something like,
“ 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, instead of a big corporation. If you’re interested in participating you can take a look at (the order form/product list you’ll be offering) and let me know if a buying club would be helpful to you.”
If some people you’re reaching out to aren’t very familiar with the fair trade model or supply chains use these key talking points and infographic to help you explain why supporting an alternative trading model is beneficial to farmers, consumers and the environment.
Determine how you will
- Take individual orders from members/use an order spreadsheet for record-keeping
- Tally them into one master order (by case quantities)
- Place your group’s order with Equal Exchange and pay for the order up front by credit card
- Collect individual payment from members
- Distribute products to members or establish a pick up time & location
Plan an order
Choose which items you’ll offer from our wholesale case list. Buying clubs must submit a master order with 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. You might want to begin by offering 5-10 different items, unless you find that people are requesting their own favorite products by the full or half case quantity.
- Although you have full access to the entire Equal Exchange product line, our best selling products include:
- Organic Breakfast Blend Coffee
- Organic French Roast Coffee
- Organic Love Buzz Coffee
- Organic Decaf Coffee
- Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate
- Organic Dark Chocolate with Caramel Crunch & Sea Salt
- Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Organic English Breakfast Tea
- Organic Green Tea
- Organic Chocolate Minis
- Organic whole bean coffee in 5lb bags
- Organic Semi Sweet and Bitter Sweet Chocolate Chips
- You might want to create a Google Spreadsheet that helps keep things organized and all participants can edit it in live time. See an an example of a template for organizers that you may choose to copy and use here.
- List product pricing and let people know how much they will owe based on the quantity they ordered.
- State a cut-off date when you will be placing the order
- Decide what your policy will be if people don’t order enough to fill up a whole case worth of a certain product. To avoid this, you might require that members commit to at least half a case of a specific item that they want (ie, 3 bags of coffee from a case of 6 bags)
- Requiring pre-payment from members, at least on your first order, is a good way to make sure that people will participate responsibly.
- After your first order you can determine if you will order from Equal Exchange bi-weekly, monthly, etc.
If your buying club is large, you might choose to use software that was created specifically for buying clubs at www.foodclub.org. The platform can handle split cases and offers extra features to help you organize your club.
Place the Order
- Tally 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 (ie 12 bars of chocolate, 6, 12oz bags of coffee, 6 boxes of tea, etc). You’ll pay Equal Exchange in full by credit card at the time of your order.
There’s no minimum order, but purchase $135 worth of products to get free shipping.
Place your master order with Equal Exchange:
- By phone: 774-776-7366 Our helpful customer service reps are available 9am-5pm M-F Eastern to set up your account and take your order.
- Online: shop.equalexchange.coop If you already have a church or organizational account with Equal Exchange using your email address you can use that one, 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 an email address, the name your organization “ie Anderson Road Buying Club” and select your faith-denomination under “coffee project” if applicable. You can choose your preferred shipping address which can be residential or a business.
Distribute & Enjoy
When products arrive at the designated pick-up location, have a consistent system for distribution, whether it’s a pick up on your front porch or walking/driving the orders over to members. 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 a convenient 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. 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.