Hive Five Co-ops
According to the International Co-operative Alliance there are seven keys to operating a true co-op: “voluntary and open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy, education, co-operation, and concern for community.”
While every cooperative brewery in the country may not stick to all seven of these tenants, each one is forging a path and creating a personal model that works best for them.
Another company hoping to open a new facility soon is High Five Co-op Brewery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the 100% member-owned company, members not only receive voting privileges regarding board members but get to make other business decisions too like what beer to brew.
“Becoming a member owner entitles you to be a lifetime mug club member, that in itself is a really good deal. It's only $150 and we also have a founding member/owner imperial pint glass, 20oz for the same price.
You have access to owner events and specials, your name on the wall and one nice thing about a co-op is you'll get a patronage rebate. When the brewery becomes financially successful, the profits will be reinvested into the brewery, among the workers and also to the member owners,” says Jorel Van Os, Vice President of High Five.
Van Os explains the best part of cooperative ownership is the financial stability afforded by the model. “Many bars and breweries have really committed patrons who almost feel like they belong there.
But here there’s actually a chance for you to own this brewery and own this experience, having an equal vote and say as everyone else. [Imagine if there's another] economic downturn? If you’re given the choice of going to fewer breweries, where are you going to go? The one that you own!”
Slow but Steady Growth
The downside of such stability is a slower pace of business growth, which can be a turn-off for some members looking to make quick, creative and personal decisions with the business.
Van Os continues: “You have to operate everything by committee. There’s not just one boss making all the decisions. When you have a collective, everyone owns it. One share, one person, one vote.
Everything can take longer. I’d say it’s harder to start a cooperative brewery but you have the advantage of firm, committed member owners.”
For High Five, the “by committee” rule applies to everything: from what beers to brew, to new hires and of course where the brewery should be located.
According to Laura Barbrick, High Five Board President, “We're working on that right now. We're first approaching our members, letting them know that we're looking for investments. With 133 members we want to network through them.”
Building a Strong Future Ahead
So what does the future hold for the craft cooperatives in this series and new ones in planning?
There are currently 4100 craft breweries in the United States, of which roughly 30 are structured as cooperative businesses. With different models used across those 30 breweries, the cooperative’s future form is still a work in progress.
However no matter how these models evolve, the inventiveness and resourcefulness of the craft brewing community combined with continued small business growth make cooperatives a trend to watch. With collective bargaining power and support, the next batch of local brews may find themselves in a strong position to weather further waves of consolidation or economic shifts. Time for collective sighs of relief...
Jeremy Martin is a Seattle based writer who primarily works on stories about craft beer and coffee; often writing one while drinking the other.
A graduate of Western Michigan University, his work has appeared in a several national and international publications. He now shares his expertise as a regular contributor to the Kinnek Community.