An Interview with the National Cooperative Grocers Association

NCGA Board member, Abdul-Shahid Mustafa, talks about the opportunities that lie in cooperation.


Abdul-Shahid Mustafa is on the Board of Directors of the National Cooperative Grocers Association, an organization whose members represent independent natural foods market cooperatives located throughout the United States. Mustafa is also the general manager at Mountain View Market, a food co-op located in Las Cruces, NM. 

What are the opportunities presented by working within a cooperative system?
Our greatest opportunity at this time is in gaining leverage as a sector. The co-op sector in the United Kingdom is recognized as one of the largest and most powerful business sectors in Europe. If cooperatives work toward the creation of a successful and sustainable cooperative economy, by promoting the interests of cooperatives and supporting the growth and development of new and existing cooperatives, then we will be able to gain market share while creating investment opportunities for a wider range of stakeholders. 

What are the challenges?
The challenges are in convincing organizations with a strong sense of autonomy to work with similar organizations to accept common financial standards and implement operational procedures that would help create greater efficiency through integration. 

What can cooperative organizations focused on different industries learn from one another?
I think cooperatives that operate similar businesses can share operational and policy procedures to increase efficiencies, but all cooperatives can learn more about how to integrate our systems, which would allow for more cooperation among cooperatives. For example, my cooperative [Mountain View Market] wants to start a micro-lending program for members who want to invest in the growth of cooperatives. If credit unions provided assistance in handling the administration of these ventures, then our member investors would feel more confident in the project. 

What can non-food cooperatives learn from NCGA?
What began as a handful of regional grocers’ associations in 1999 has become a 121 member organization representing more than 130 stores. It is the second largest chain of natural foods retailers in the United States, doing more than $1.2 billion in sales. Our leverage as a chain with distributors has allowed my store to gain more than 3% in margin since joining NCGA in 2008.

Any best practices or lessons learned from your close work with cooperatives?
In 2008 NCGA created a subsidiary development cooperative [DC] that is owned by NCGA. The subsidiary cooperative isolates NCGA from the business and legal risks associated with development. It also is a vehicle to procure development capital from multiple parties. The DC permits NCGA to consider higher risk member opportunities than would likely be feasible without a subsidiary. All national and regional chain operations in the conventional or natural food markets are able to gather their cumulative experience in business and store development projects. Future projects will benefit from this growing knowledge base and the organization adds to its collective internal expertise as well. 

For more best practices from other cooperative players, read:
What REI (and Other Co-ops) Can Teach Credit Unions (Part 1)

What REI (and Other Co-ops) Can Teach Credit Unions (Part 2)