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Mar 11, 2013 05:19 PM

Karma Food Co-op

There is an article today in The Star about Karma Co-op's financial woes. I live reasonably close by and would consider joining, but does anyone know how the prices compare to those of Fiesta Farms?

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  1. I think Fiesta's a more economical bet. Membership at the Co op is $40 per year plus 2 hours volunteering a month or pay a $22.00 fee/month or surcharge on each purchase, the prices are a bit higher.

    1. What Karma does well is focus on organic and local and that they sell many items, like maple syrup or even laundry detergent in bulk. You have to bring your own bags and containers. They have a limited meat selection. We liked it at first and I have no complaints, but it always seemed like we had to shop there and also at Fiesta. Karma, one example, didn't have a yogurt brand we liked. I learned some good habits at Karma, but now we strictly shop at Fiesta. Just more convenient for us, they have everything we want.

      1. It seems like a decision to join would have to be based more on principle (and wanting to help them out) and less about the cost and/or convenience factors. Thanks to both of you for the good points.

        1. I’ve been a member at Karma for 4 years and have recently become more involved in one of its volunteer committees. I can speak to the price question and perhaps give some broader perspective about what Karma offers.

          RE: price – Karma volunteers recently conducted price comparisons with two competitors, Herbs & Nutrition and Fiesta Farms. They found that Karma’s prices were, overall, approximately 9% lower than these competitors, and sometimes as much as 17% lower. When you add the 10% surcharge non-working members pay on top of their bill, that extra savings is pretty much cancelled out, but Karma remains at-par with their competitors. Also, they list their produce and bulk prices in KILOS not LBS which makes a big difference. The details of the price comparison will soon be available on Karma’s website.

          A few attributes to note:
          - Karma’s products are more likely to be locally grown / produced than its competitors

          - Karma sells a lot of its products in bulk with minimal packaging (you can bring your own or buy bags for 5cents). Things like detergents, nut butters, oils, flours, miso, grains, beans, cereals, honey, agave, and (best of all) maple syrup are all sold in bulk. Hard to find elsewhere.

          - Very few stores in Toronto have a purchasing policy that compares to Karma’s. It strives to carry local, organic and fair trade products wherever possible and has outright eliminated brands that don’t align with its ethical standards. (e.g Tropicana / Nestle) It is also committed to keeping foods with genetically modified ingredients off the shelves. This guarantee alone makes Karma’s membership fees worthwhile to me.

          - Karma staff can “special order” products that customers request if they don’t already carry it. And if enough members request a product, Karma will gladly stock it (as long as it aligns with the purchasing policy). It’s this kind of two-way dialogue that is unique to the co-operative model. Karma is an ideal store for consumers who want to be involved and engaged in their food system and choices.

          - Karma cultivates strong and lasting relationships with local farmers and food processors and works to pay them what their food is worth. (in my professional life I work with a lot of farmers and they have repeatedly told me even grocery stores who are outwardly committed to supporting local food still try and pay as little as possible for it…which to me does the opposite of supporting local farms).

          Overall - I would recommend just going by the store one day to learn more and get a first hand experience. The staff are very knowledgeable and friendly, so feel free to ask them (or other members) questions about the co-op. Right now you can also shop for 30 days without having to become a member, so it’s a good way to get a feel for how the shopping experience, selection, and price compare to your usual grocery store.

          Their website also has lots of good information and their purchasing policy is on there too (under Food Issues Committee)

          Hope this helps!

          1 Reply
          1. re: EmilyVH

            Thanks for the details, Emily - I will give this consideration.

          2. I shopped at Karma a few times (got a 3 month membership) and I would agree that shopping there would have to be on principle. I found myself heading elsewhere to finish my shopping and while some items were cheaper than at Fiesta or the Big Carrot (bulk nut butters for instance) others were not. My biggest gripe is that it was all volunteer staffed and on one occasion I had to actually teach one of the volunteers how to use the cash register so that he could ring up my purchases.
            That said I know that they are examining ways of making things run more smoothly and hopefully they will figure things out and make the experience speedier and more enjoyable as I would love to support them again in the future.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mbe

              Oh dear (re: the cash register story)! Thanks, mbe.

              1. re: Wench Foraday

                I have been a member of Karma for six years and do the majority of my food shopping there. The store is quite small compared to Fiesta and this makes the experience quite different. The store has permanent staff but volunteers often run the check out and some volunteer more frequently than others. That being said there is rarely a line and I typically have to "ring the bell" and someone will come to the check out. If it is busy and the line gets to be 3 or 4 people, a second cash will be opened.

                Unlike most places check out is actually a pleasant experience and it is possible to quickly run in a grab something that you need without fighting through long lines or hoping for the less than 10 items line to move quickly.

                I pay a 10% premium on the listed prices in the store and, without having done a formal survey, the prices are as good or better than Fiesta. They are significantly better Whole Foods. btw I occasionally shop at both Fiesta and Whole Foods but I never have need to shop at Sobey's, Loblaws, or any of the other "supermarkets".

                I agree that the meat and fish options at Karma are somewhat limited. The quality, however, is quite good and the basics are there (ground beef, pork, lamb, sausages, pickerel, and other local fish). When I want specific cuts of meat or fish, I prefer to go to Sanagan's or Vince Gasparo's (Meat) or Hooked (Fish) which are all near by.

                I joined Karma on principle but I stayed for many reasons. Price, convenience, experience, and a selection of products that I want to eat.

                As far as the cash register story, I think it is quite funny that he had to teach the volunteer something. If this had of happened in another store, I can imagine a loud speaker blaring out a call for a manager at cash 16.