At the end of the den of the La Louve supermarket, the noise of an engine rises. “I vacuum to be up to date in my hours”cries Catherine Branger, pressing on the beast’s skull to silence it. Mme Branger, however, is not an employee of the store: she is a client-cooperator.
The first cooperative and participatory supermarket in France celebrated its 4th anniversary on November 17th. Beneficiary since 2018 (91,000 euros), the supermarket has almost doubled its turnover in three years – from 3.9 million euros in 2017 to 7.2 in 2019 -, d ‘after data provided by La Louve.
This growth is ensured by the increase in the number of member-shareholders, the only ones authorized to do their shopping in the cooperative. “La Louve has been profitable since 2018”, says one of the two co-founders, Tom Brooth, plaid shirt, blue jeans, hair pulled back. “At that time, we had a little over 3,000 active subscribers. ” So many portfolios that buy the products on the shelves and, above all, a workforce that works three hours a month on a voluntary basis to keep the supermarket running. “ Today we are around 5 000 active cooperative members! “, enthused Mr Brooth, referring to a maximum threshold, “Still distant”, around 12,000 members. Twelve full-time employees also work for La Louve, compared to only five when it opened.
“Making quality products accessible”
The two confinements upset the organization of the participatory cooperative, confining the members to their sole role as consumers. Employees have therefore temporarily joined the salary team – reaching 15.5 full-time equivalents – to ensure the operation of the supermarket. “Everything is going almost like in a standard supermarket right now … we just encourage our customers to put away products that are out of place, if they see any”, specifies the manager. Forced to do without its “participatory” dimension, La Louve did not however hide under unpaid bills. ” In March and April, we lost 20% of our turnover, believes the co-founder. But finances have been stable since the reconfinement. “
The founders, Tom Booth and Brian Horihan, both Americans, model La Louve’s organizational and economic model on one of the oldest cooperative and participatory supermarkets, Park Slope Food Coop, located in New York. Opened in the 1970s, the cooperative has more than 18,000 active members. “There, the cooperative members come from all social backgrounds, a real melting pot, like Brooklyn, remembers Tom Booth, from a modest family in the Midwestern United States. They solved a big contradiction: making quality products accessible, including to poor people. ” At Park Slope Food Coop, as at La Louve, it is the customers who choose the products that are on the shelves. “They solved a big contradiction: making quality products accessible, including to poor people. “
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