Red River Co-op - providing more than just equity cheques

Pictured Above:  Red River Co-op sponsoring a youth for the Manitoba Youth Leadership Retreat

Red River Co-op, a cooperative that most of us are familiar with, began in 1936 when a small group of individuals decided there was a need for a fuel cooperative in their community. 

By early 1937 they had about 400 interested shareholders and some $2000 in the bank. They moved quickly and set up a board of directors and a cooperative charter by the fall of 1937. In the first six months they had revenues of $45,000 and were offering dividends to the members.  The co-op expanded and branched out in both products and in other communities but in the 1980s, they decided to restructure and consolidate as a result of a negative equity position.  A unique business model was adopted whereby the gas bars were contracted to operators who were responsible for staffing and management. The turnaround began and by 1992 Red River issued the first equity cheques in 17 years. By 1997 the co-op was solidly re-established as a profitable petro retail co-op.
The co-op has now branched out into groceries and are open at four locations throughout the city offering fresh local farm produce, bakery products, deli and pharmacy.

Red River Co-op now has over 270,000 member owners in the regions they operate and annual sales of some $650 million. In the past five years the Co-op has returned over $209 million in cash to the members based on their patronage. Last year alone, Red River Co-op paid over $36 million dollars in cash to members - money their members have earned by supporting the business they own.

Although the equity returned to members is one way that Red River Co-op gives back to its' member owners, they also allocate 1.5% of its local earnings, averaged over three years, to worthy non-profit community initiatives where Red River members live and work. A Community Relations committee reviews numerous requests and makes recommendations to the Board on donations.

Their strategy is to support the following areas: health sciences, youth programs, educational pursuits, the arts, environmental projects, community sport and services.  Additionally, they support cooperative initiatives within our Province such as contributing to the Tax Credit Fund.  When asked why the co-op decided to support the Tax Credit Fund, Dale Riddell, Vice-President remarked, "We support the fund knowing there are many excellent business and service concept ideas that if structured as co-op would strengthen community and produce earnings for the members. One of our fundamental beliefs is that co-ops work for the sustainable development of their community and this fund has a track record of stepping up to help put ideas into reality."

Special thanks to Dale Riddell, Vice-President of Red River Co-op for taking the time to answer our questions and provide such an informative interview and to Kelly Nickie for the photograph.

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