I've had my dad and his other half down to stay this weekend, and found out some fairly interesting family history. My Dad is a big advocate of the Co-op and basically does as much of his shopping through it as possible (including online) as well as banking with them. This is basically because a) he likes the co-operative idea and b) he likes the fact that they try to behave ethically. This was all news to me, but interesting nonetheless.
What I did remember was that he worked for a co-op for a long period, an outfit called Eastern Counties Farmers. Agricultural co-ops are still pretty common in a lot of places, including the US (Ocean Spray for example). These sorts of co-ops are much less about the lefty idea of shared ownership (though there's definitely a tinge of that spirit about some of them) and more about economies of scale. They are usually ways to either buy or sell produce/equipment/etc collectively, in order to get the best price for the members. My dad worked in the bit of ECF that bulk bought farm machinery to flog on to members.
Unusually it seems that ECF was involved in both buying and selling, and having had a quick google it seems like it had its fingers in all kinds of farming activity. My dad said that at one point it had a sausage-making business that had a major contract supplying M&S. Interesting for me, having grown up in East Anglia, that there was this big co-operative business on our doorstep that employed my dad. It also had some buildings down on the Ipswich dockside. All gone now though - it went belly-up in the 1980s, after an existence of about 80 years I think.
When we were talking about this, my dad mentioned that he also came across something interesting in my gran's possessions. He found an old note book that belonged to another family member that my gran had borrowed to make notes at a meeting she attended. The meeting was to set up a co-op to supply cheap food etc to working class families in Leicester (where my Dad's family are from). Apparently the notes say that the co-op was being established in opposition to a cartel operated by a store called The International, which was a chain I think (if anyone has heard of this I'd love to hear about it). He's going to scan in the relevant documents and send them to me - I'll post them up when he does.
So we've got a fair bit of co-op history in our family, and funnily enough I now work in a building owned by the Co-op, the building further away in this pic.