The Co-operative Group, commonly known as the Co-op throughout the United Kingdom (UK), is one of the world's largest consumer co-operative federations, with over four million active members. Consumer cooperatives are a form of retail outlet owned and operated by consumers, which aim to fulfill the needs and aspirations of their members. With their headquarters in Manchester, the group developed as a merger between co-operative wholesale societies and independent retail societies, which can be traced back to the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers established in 1844.
The Co-operative Group encompasses other branded businesses, including The Co-operative Food, The Co-operative Funeralcare,The Co-operative Travel, Co-operative Legal Services, Co-operative Electrical, The Co-operative Bank and The Co-operative Energy. The Co-operative Group itself is the largest of these businesses and operates the collective buying group, otherwise known as the Co-operative Federal Retail and Trading Services, which is the central buying group that supplies almost all food bought for sale in Co-operative food stores. Although managed by the group, it is controlled by each of its member societies which allows for the negotiation of better prices from suppliers in order to effectively compete with other major grocery retailers. The group also runs a community dividend scheme, in which a share of yearly profits are re-invested in the communities where they trade.
The group's food retailing business, which operates as Co-op Food, has over 2,700 stores across the country and is the fifth largest retailer in the United Kingdom. These shops range from convenience stores to some larger superstores, although the majority are convenience to medium-sized supermarkets. The Co-operative is well-known for its ethical trading and campaigning, which ranges from issues such as animal welfare and the use of pesticides to clean energy and a locally-sourced product range. As of 2017, the retailer became the first in the country to sell British-only fresh meat to counteract rising levels of imports and uncertainties following Brexit. It was also the first major retailer to stock Fairtrade products and publishes an annual report on sustainability issues, including figures on the volume of produced food wasteand the share that is recycled or reused.
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