The contribution of the consumer-member of a cooperative project has been, and it is essencial for the development

New technologies are changing the consumer and companies that offer products and services

What is ERKIDE-Kontsumo?

Consumer cooperativism has historically been represented through a Federation of its own called FeCoE, Basque Consumer Cooperatives Federation, established in 1988. This is the first of the Federations created by the CSCE, the Higher Council of Cooperatives of Euskadi.

In 2015, and after several conversations between ERKIDE and FeCoE, the 8 Cooperatives forming the Federation, that day, decided to undertake an integration process in ERKIDE to join an organization that enabled us to maintain the goals of visibility and promotion of consumer cooperativism, training development of the professionals of the Cooperatives and consumer protection through training and information on food-related matters.

We closed 2017 with a census of 10 Cooperatives that bring together more than 11,600 worker-members and close to 1,100,000 consumer members.

How is ERKIDE-Kontsumo integrated into ERKIDE Federation as a whole?

Within ERKIDE, Sector Groups can be set up for each class of Cooperatives that are members of the Federation. At the time of the incorporation of the Consumer Cooperatives to ERKIDE, there was already ERKIDE-Irakaskuntza, formed by the Teaching Cooperatives.

The Consumer Cooperatives created ERKIDE-Kontsumo, for the representation and the establishment of all kinds of services and activities useful for the Consumer Cooperatives

ERKIDE-Kontsumo has a Coordinator, the highest representative of the sectoral Group before anybody, as well as a Sectoral Commission whose members are several representatives of the Cooperatives belonging to the Association. This Commission establishes the activities and programmes to be undertaken by ERKIDE-Kontsumo and the members of the Sectoral Group is also responsible for the representation of consumer cooperativism in the overarching bodies, associations or organizations in which consumer cooperativism matters are discussed.

The Consumer Cooperatives have a permanent position on the Board of ERKIDE and, through it, we participate directly in KONFEKOOP, the Basque Cooperatives Confederation and in the CSCE, the Higher Council of Cooperatives of Euskadi.

 

Special features

What are the peculiarities and advantages of the cooperative model in the consumer sector?

I would highlight two distinctive elements of consumer cooperativism that we have in Euskadi. The first distinctive feature in relation to the rest of the Cooperative families is the figure of the consumer member. Since its inception, the Consumer Cooperatives have been constituted to defend the interests of their consumer members, who have been key players in the present and future decisions of the Cooperatives. While initially these interests focused mostly on obtaining varied, safe and affordable food, today the consumer member seeks to be part of a project that, in addition to guaranteeing the above, will provide training and information in various matters related to responsible and sustainable consumption of food and consumer goods, energy, cultural services, residential coexistence etc.

The contribution of the consumer as a partner of a cooperative project has been and is essential for its development. And it is an element that cannot really imitate a mercantile company.

The second particularity is more typical of some of the Consumer Cooperatives. Traditionally, its members have only been the consumer members. The presence of worker-members in these Cooperatives is a peculiarity that in Europe is only found in Spain and is the result of decisions taken at the time in the cooperative Eroski and that, subsequently, have been adopted by a few Cooperatives related one way or another to it.

The benchmark of consumer cooperativism in Euskadi is EROSKI S.Coop., isn’t it?

Eroski is indeed the largest consumer cooperative in the Basque Country and the largest cooperative group in Spain, both in terms of turnover and number of workers and consumer members.

We are part of ERKIDE-Kontsumo, large cooperatives such as Eroski, Bide Onera or Goiener, together with small retail cooperatives that, with only one store, maintain the cooperative spirit for which they were founded more than 125 years ago in some cases. We also have among us a Cooperative of Linguistic Services in Laudio, Aiaraldea.

Is energy consumption cooperativism growing in Spain?

Without a doubt. New cooperative consumer projects are being developed in the energy sector and in cohabitation residences.

In the case of the Energy Cooperatives, an important movement is emerging – it started in Valencia, where there are historical Cooperatives – and is developing rapidly throughout the country. In Euskadi we have a major representative, Goiener, also leading the green energy movement at State level.

What programmes of a consumer nature will be developed in 2018?

Historically, consumer programmes have been approached from a State perspective through HISPACOOP and this year will be no different. The ability to reach many consumers through large and small Cooperatives is important.

Specifically, throughout 2018 we will work on several lines of action: consumer information on protection measures in the energy sector, with the electric social bond as the main issue; information, communication and awareness to consumers to make healthier food choices; and, finally, we will continue working in the fight against food waste through different programmes.

 

New technologies

Are new technologies influencing consumption habits? Are we facing a revolution in this field?

No doubt new technologies are changing the consumer and the companies that offer products and services, but I would not talk about revolution so much as evolution. Thus, as the circumstances, tastes and needs of the consumer change, people decides what products people wants and where and when to buy them. We must bear in mind that 45% of Spaniards purchase food online, at least once a month, and this figure rises to 64.5% in the case of millennials.

The consumer wants to make life easier and new technologies allow them to be continuously connected to an ecosystem that offers variety, speed and competitiveness. And for companies that offer products and services, technology allows us to handle huge amounts of information and present customized deals that until a few years ago were unthinkable.

You have the role of President of  HISPACOOP, the Spanish Consumer Cooperatives Confederation. What are the priorities of HISPACOOP at this time?

Consumer cooperativism is going through a very important stage with the consolidation of retail projects and the emergence of energy and cohabitation sectors. Helping to develop new projects, structuring new sectors and thus enhancing consumer cooperativism is undoubtedly the number one priority at present.

The other major priority is the consolidation of HISPACOOP as a benchmark organization in consumer matters. We have a long history of training and information for consumers on responsible consumption of goods and services, and in this world of new technologies in which information is so close at hand, we must adapt our methods of reaching Consumers, Cooperatives, institutions and society in general.

 

Mikel Larrea
ERKIDE-Kontsumo Coordinator

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