About us

Scotland’s experts on farmer co-ops and food industry collaboration, we provide a range of specialist information, development and consultancy services.

What we do

Our work allows farming, food and drink businesses to realise the commercial advantages achievable by working together more effectively, and to contribute to the success of Scotland’s food and drink industry and rural economy.

Membership

We are a development organisation owned by our members. We provide a range of specialist services that our members have requested, that are not available elsewhere. Discover how we can help you.

What's New

Latest news, views and updates from us here at SAOS.

Want to know more about co-ops?

What is co-operation?

Simply put, co-operation means working together to achieve a common goal.

What is a co-op?

A co-operative (co‑op) is a business, owned by individual members rather than investors. A co‑op is run by, and for, the members to realise their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations.

Co‑ops bring people together in a fair and equitable way. Whether the members are the customers, employees, users or residents, co‑ops are democratically managed by the 'one member, one vote' rule. Members share equal voting rights regardless of the amount of capital they put into the enterprise.

Why co-operate?

Common goals and united commitment mean that all members of a co‑op share responsibility for creating their own success.

You should join a co‑op if their services or products are valuable to you as an individual.

Creating a new co‑op may be the ideal option if several like-minded people share an unmet need. Some of the main reasons to join or form co‑ops include:

  • increase income
  • increase bargaining power
  • obtain products or services otherwise unavailable
  • expand new and existing market opportunities
  • improve product or service quality
  • lower operating costs

If you think that forming a new co‑op may be right for you, contact one of the SAOS team.

How is co-operation different to other forms of enterprise?

The primary purpose of a co‑op is to capture and return value for members through their use of its facilities and services. Return on capital invested in the co-op, although important, is not the main purpose and is not the primary success measure for members. Co‑ops come in all sizes, from three to many thousands of members, and there are many different types:

  • Agriculture
  • Banking and insurance
  • Community
  • Credit Unions
  • Energy
  • Health
  • Housing
  • Mutuals
  • Regional Organisations
  • Retail
  • Worker co‑ops
How do SAOS’s members co-operate?

SAOS’s 55 member co‑ops are made up of farmers, growers, and other rural businesses and communities working together to achieve a commercial objective they could not achieve individually. Members measure the effectiveness of their co‑ops by the profitability of their businesses, achieved by participation in their co‑ops.
Co‑operation equips rural communities to determine and provide for their own needs and priorities and opens up many particular opportunities and benefits for farmers and growers:

  • shared investment and shared costs
  • access to markets through larger scale
  • quality control and assurance
  • added value food manufacturing and branding
  • innovation in production 
  • increased security of market access, payment and risk management
  • opportunities to supply new markets and to expand their production.
  • quality control
  • competitive prices returned for their produce

Our member co‑ops are involved in a wide variety of businesses. Find out more about them here.

How widespread is co-operation?

Co‑operation is long-established and widespread throughout the world. There are around 3 million co‑ops worldwide, many of these co‑ops are very well-known businesses:

  • John Lewis Partnership
  • Ocean Spray
  • Migros
  • Danish Crown
  • Fonterra
  • Arla
  • The Wine Society
  • Sunkist Growers

Farmer co‑ops are especially strong in Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Through their co‑ops, farmers in these countries have created global businesses and brands marketing a vast range of products. 

Rural communities in many of these countries have invested in green energy, and in local services such as water supply, telecommunications and housing. 
Co‑ops that are specialist banks, serving agricultural and rural interests, are very important in the USA, France and the Netherlands.

Co‑ops are also vital in many developing countries, working to create local capacity and sustainable production with fair returns.

As businesses are driven by values, not just profit, co‑ops share internationally-agreed principles and act together to build a better world through co-operation. Co‑op principles.

Putting fairness, equality and social justice at the heart of the enterprise, co‑ops around the world are allowing people to work together to create sustainable enterprises that generate long-term jobs and prosperity.

How does co-operation in the UK compare with other countries?

The development of large farmers’ co‑ops in the UK was not a priority for many years, because statutory marketing boards stabilised markets and prices. In today’s freer trade market environment, and particularly post-Brexit, strong and effective co‑ops are essential to a competitive market position and to maintaining the security and stability that producers require.

How important is co-operation in rural Scotland?

Farmers’ co‑ops have played a vital role in Scotland for well over 100 years and are now more important than ever. Their activities include:

  • marketing farm produce
  • responding to customers’ needs and to market opportunities in collaborative marketing chains
  • pooling buying power to negotiate better terms
  • providing cross-contracting opportunities and employment through machinery rings
  • establishing new ventures and solutions, often with wider community benefit, such as local food processing and retailing, green energy and waste management.

Working together also helps to safeguard the future of family farms by providing the advantages of collective sharing and scale, while retaining individual family farm businesses.

Co‑operation is part of government policy in food, agriculture, and rural development, and is actively supported by the Scottish Government. The Scottish Government’s Agriculture Champions called for more farmer co-operation in the future policy.

How can I find out more about co-operation?

If you think that forming a new co‑op may be right for you, contact one of the SAOS team

Find out more about co‑ops in the UK at: www.uk.coop and around the world at: www.ica.coop