The most precious thing you have …

On the 20th of August we showed »Food Coop«, a documentary about the cooperative supermarket Park Slope in New York. Afterwards, Nina Horaczek, chief reporter of the FALTER and MILA members Claudia Zefferer and David Jelinek discussed our project MILA – Mitmach Supermarkt in Wien. This was accompanied by the first small samples of future products.

The hall of the Volkskundemuseum Vienna on the first floor in Laudongasse is well filled, despite the summer temperatures on this Friday evening. There are many new faces. Some of them will become members of MILA – Mitmach Supermarkt the same evening.

I save 250 dollars a month. That’s $3,000 a year, $30,000 in 10 years and a million dollars if I buy 300 years.,

she smiles on the screen and gets many laughs from the audience. The teacher is sitting in her New York flat at the kitchen table where she presents her purchases and compares them: this week’s purchase at Wholefoods, a conventional supermarket, with the one at Park Slope Food Coop a fortnight ago. She saves an average of 40 per cent.

For 2 hours and 45 minutes of work per month, she can shop for good and affordable groceries and other everyday goods at the »Park Slope Food Coop« from 8am to 8pm, 7 days a week. That is the deal. Only members can shop. While shopping and working, members can have their children looked after on site, organised by members, this also counts as monthly work contribution.

We ask people for the most precious thing they have: Their time!

Joe Holtz, currently General Manager and co-founder, explains the concept in the documentary: Who collaborates has a say and owns the company. Everyone’s participation reduces staff costs, only a small team is employed. Anyone who misses a staff shift has to do two make-up shifts in order to continue shopping. The staff shifts and many other things are coordinated by members in the office. Many are surprised that no one is annoyed when they call to coordinate their make-up shifts. Many see the members in the office as superiors, so to speak. But they are not. The Food Coop is a cooperative company: The staff shifts are an important contribution to the running of the shop – they are the responsibility of each member.

Park Slope Food Coop has such a high turnover that I don’t even have to look at the date on the products. It’s always totally fresh!,

a chef tells in the documentary. Park Slope is very successful, although they only add 20 % to the products. By comparison, the Park Slope Food Coop makes almost 10 times the turnover of a Hofer discount store in this country with an average of 710 square metres, with around 560 square metres of sales space. With sales of 9,348 euros per square metre of sales space, Hofer continued to rank first in Austria in 2019.

»Food Coop – the film«, conveys what is difficult to describe: how 17,000 people work together on around 1,000 square metres of sales and storage space and supply themselves with food and everyday goods. It is a documentary by Tom Boothe from 2016. A year later, the cooperative supermarket »La Louve« opens in Paris, based on the New York model, which he helped to build. Today, La Louve has 6,000 members, is rented into a social housing building in the 18th arrondissement – in a socially mixed district, not far from the North and East Paris train stations and the Sacre Coeur church. »La Louve« is so successful that loans have already been repaid ahead of schedule.

Good, affordable food and being part of a community that is shaping the future – that is the offer that Park Slope Food Coop in Brooklyn New York City has been making and keeping for decades. La Louve has successfully translated this concept to Europe. With MILA – Mitmach Supermarkt we want to bring this future concept to Vienna and adapt it to the cultural and local conditions: There are a lot of grocery shops in Vienna run by the three big chains that dominate the market and are increasingly replacing the variety of products with own brands. In any case, MILA’s goals are to be affordable, as well as more diverse and sustainable than conventional supermarkets.

Frequently asked questions about MILA Mitmach Supermarkt …

Nina Horaczek, chief reporter of FALTER, moderates the evening. Some time ago, while researching good examples of how we can shape the future, she came across the Park Slope Food Coop. After the documentary, David Jelinek, founding member of MILA, and Claudia Zefferer, who wrote her master’s thesis on cooperative food supply and is also a member of MILA, were on stage to answer questions from the audience:

  • Is there a business plan? Yes, it is currently being worked out in detail.
  • How can I join? Now anyone can become a member of the MILA association, which is preparing the cooperative supermarket: Either as a solidary member or as an active member with participation and voting rights – the membership fee in the MILA association is 24 euros / year.
  • How social is MILA for the unemployed, refugees, etc. ? MILA is open to all who support the concept and want to become part of it. The membership fee in the MILA association can be reduced to half, 12 euros/year, by everyone’s own estimation. In the future cooperative, the amount of the shares will also be socially graded: 25 euros for the financially disadvantaged, instead of 100 euros, is currently planned.
  • Where does MILA stand now? We have about 300 members, 30 to 40 of whom are actively involved in the development work.
  • Where will the supermarket be? For the location, we favour socially mixed neighbourhoods, well connected to the underground and/or tram.
  • When will it start, what does it take? For the start, we need about 2,000 members, whose number will then grow steadily. We want to start with 3,000 to 4,000 products and gradually expand the product selection. We want to be a one-stop shopping destination, i.e. a supermarket with a full range of products where you can get everything you need.
  • Back in the 60s/70s, when the Park Slope Food Coop was founded, there was a social upheaval: are the starting conditions similar today? Yes, we have the climate crisis and want to put the supply more in the hands of the producers and consumers again, at the moment there is an enormous concentration of power in the trade.
  • What is your position on the existing food coops in Vienna? For us, MILA – Mitmach Supermarkt is a further development of the Food Coop concept: simplified, less time-consuming and therefore suitable for everyday life and possible for more people. Some of our active members are members of food coops or have helped to set one up and as the MILA association we are in exchange with the IG Foodcoops.

Nina Horaczek ends the evening with a wish:

Please tell grandma, grandpa, aunt, niece, neighbours and colleagues about MILA so that MILA can continue to grow and flourish!

To round off the evening, we go to the guest garden. Here we sit above the data servers on which we rented space, as the MILA association: Our data cloud »MILA Cloud« and the recently set up forum run on the servers in the basement of the Volkskundemuseum in Vienna’s 8th district. Open source, with open source code. Here it becomes clear, MILA is an attitude that has an impact in all areas.

This documentary film evening was supported by the Vienna Business Agency, a fund of the City of Vienna, as part of the “Piloten Mitmach Supermarkt”.

More information

This is an article for the project »Pilot Mitmach Supermarkt«, published on the MILA website (in German) at the end of August.