An introduction to The Co-operative Group


The Co-operative Group is the UK’s largest mutual business, owned by more than eight million members. It is the UK’s fifth biggest food retailer operating across the country with almost 2,800 local, convenience and medium-sized stores. 

Amongst its other wholly-owned businesses are the UK’s number one funeral services provider, a major general insurer and a developing legal services business.

The Group also has a minority shareholding in The Co-operative Bank and a joint-venture travel business with Thomas Cook. 

As well as having clear financial and operational objectives, the Group, which operates 3,500 outlets and employs approaching 70,000 people, is a recognised leader for its social goals and community-led programmes.


The Co-operative Group has its origins in Rochdale, Lancashire. The Rochdale Pioneers Society was famously established in 1844 based upon the notion of ethical trading and belief that the profits of the business should be shared amongst members according to their purchases.

By 1900 there were over 1,400 separate independent co-operative businesses in the UK, all members of a wider Co-operative Movement. During the 1900s, many of these independent societies began to merge. One of the most significant in recent times was in 2000, when The Co-operative Group was formed following the merger of the Co-operative Wholesale Society and Co-operative Retail Services. This was followed in 2007 by the merger of United Co-operatives with The Co-operative Group. In 2009 The Co-operative Food business acquired Somerfield, a rival food business.

Member owned model

Membership lies at the heart of our business. The Co-operative Group believes in open and voluntary membership, democracy and member economic participation.

We are owned by our members, we manage our business for their benefit and share the profits with them. Along with all co-operative societies, The Co-operative Group is democratically controlled by its members.

However we differ from most other UK consumer co-operatives in that we have both independent society members and individual members. Anyone can become a member of the Group by subscribing for a £1 share.

Currently The Co-operative Group is jointly owned by over 6 million individual members and approximately 80 Independent Co-operative societies. We are in business to serve our members and their communities, and our business is run for their benefit. We listen to member opinions and integrate these into our business activities and our social and campaigning agenda.

The equitable nature of The Co-operative Group is exemplified through the opportunity for each and every member to get involved in running the business. In addition to having the right to vote on a one member, one vote basis, each member has the right to stand for election to an Area Committee. Area Committee members are in turn elected to Regional Boards and ultimately onto the main Co-operative Group Board – democracy in action.

Social goals

In the midst of the current global economic crisis, the co-operative model is being seen as increasingly relevant to a more balanced, equitable and sustainable economy. The Co-operative Movement was founded to serve a social purpose, as well as a commercial one.

Co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. As an ethical leader, we exist not just to serve our communities but to contribute to their long term good health. Social responsibility is in our DNA. Since 2009, we have been benchmarking ourselves against the Corporate Responsibility Index (CRI) operated by Business in the Community (BitC). Read the full extent of our ethical credentials and commitment to social goals.

Other stakeholders

Although The Co-operative Group is owned and governed by its members, there are other key stakeholders which are crucial to the co-operative principles upon which the business is conducted.

The communities in which we work and operate are important to us. We have a presence in every postal area in the UK and our work in these communities is highlighted in our Social Goals report.

Another of The Co-operative Group’s key stakeholders are our people. Our people are vital to our success. From looking after our pensioners, to developing our current employees and recruiting apprentices to form the next generation of Co-operative leaders, we continually focus on our people. Co-operatives provide education and training for their managers and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their co-operatives.

Involvement with the wider Co-operative Movement

Within the UK, Co-operatives UK is the over-arching co-operative national trade body. The Co-operative Group accounts for around 80% of the total Co-operative Movement in the UK and as such we play a leading role within Co-operatives UK.

Co-operation is not limited to the UK. The United Nations designated 2012 its International Year of Co-operatives. The Co-operative Group played an integral role in co-hosting a momentous event in Manchester which was the global culmination of the International Year.