In the late 1990s, Whole Foods Market was growing very fast. This growth was, in many ways, a triumph for a retail sector that had been promoting healthier food for decades, but many of the neighborhood-based, community-owned co-op stores that pioneered the sector were now struggling to compete with this well capitalized and centrally managed chain. Leaders in the co-op grocery sector realized that they would have to change to keep their social enterprises alive.
The food co-ops came together to create a new financial data platform, now called CoMetrics, which allowed them to work together to improve the financial health of their individual businesses and their sector as a whole. The new tool allowed each store to track its own financial performance on a set of standard metrics and to see the detailed performance of their peers. Sharing data in this way made it possible for the co-ops to create a shared purchasing program through the National Cooperative Grocers based on shared financial risk. The program gives them access to goods and credit on terms that made them competitive with a national chain.
Today, NCG brokers $1.6 billion in sales and is the second largest purchaser in the natural foods market behind Whole Foods.