Understanding the Different Types of Cooperatives - CDRQ

Understanding the Different Types of Cooperatives

June 195 minutes of reading

The cooperative model is flexible. It can be adapted to group size, business ecosystem and economic sector, among other criteria. Most importantly, it is conducive to developing businesses able to meet a variety of needs. Here is a brief description that will help you understand the different types of cooperatives, depending on their economic objectives. 

The five types of cooperatives 

In Quebec, cooperative businesses can take five distinct forms, regardless of their field of activity or the sector in which they operate. The type of co-op typically depends on the needs of its core members. They include: 

  • Consumer cooperative 
  • Producers cooperative 
  • Worker cooperative 
  • Worker shareholders cooperative 
  • Solidarity cooperative 

Are you thinking of going into business as a cooperative? Great! Now, you just have to figure out which type suits you best. 


The aim of this type of cooperative is to provide members with goods and services for their personal use. You can find these cooperatives in a wide range of sectors, including food, housing, education, cable distribution, funeral services and leisure. This type is appealing to customers who want to have their say in defining services or products. Since members are involved in decision-making, they can be assured that the business will be attentive to their needs. The benefits of a consumer cooperative include: 

  • Providing access to and savings on locally sourced products or services 
  • Limiting members’ financial responsibility to the capital contributed to the cooperative 
  • Offering collective ownership, which often ensures the business’ longevity 
  • Redistributing surpluses to members in proportion to their use of the cooperative’s services 

Have you heard of Ici Coop? This network brings together more than 75 consumer cooperatives that operate grocery stores under different banners or as independent stores. The same goes for Coopsco, which unites nearly 60 cooperatives operating nearly 200 retail stores in schools across Quebec and Ontario. 


The aim of a producers cooperative is to provide its members with the goods and services for the exercise of their profession or the operation of their business. Members benefit economically by obtaining what they need from the cooperative. This type of co-op can be found in industries such as taxi services, agriculture or business services. This model is particularly advantageous for organizations or selfemployed workers who want to build a network where unity is strength. The cooperative becomes an extension of the individual company, which is maximized through the collective of producers. 

Its other benefits include: 

  • Increasing profit margin 
  • Reducing costs 
  • Leveraging a structure that combines profitability and a social mission 
  • Providing access to tax incentives that promote capitalization 

Have you ever heard of  Citadelle? This Quebec-based producers cooperative promotes and markets maple, honey and cranberry products. The cooperative offers services such as collection, storage, marketing and global export services. 


Providing employment to its members lies at the heart of this type of cooperative. Members control all activities as both owners and employees. This model is found in the forestry and wood processing sectors, as well as in business services, IT, microbreweries or ambulance services. Since they are involved in the management of the company, workers have the opportunity to enhance their business acumen. Research shows that work cooperatives are as productive as their capitalist counterparts and that members enjoy a high quality of work life. 

The other benefits of this type of co-op include: 

  • Reducing sources of cultural, political and economic inequalities in the workplace 
  • Finding or maintaining decent employment 
  • Being considered on equal footing within the enterprise 
  • Prioritizing people, not capital, in making business decisions 
  • Reducing inequality in wages and surplus distribution 

For example,  La Barberie became Quebec’s first worker cooperative microbrewery in 1997. 


In this type of cooperative, worker shareholders hold shares in the business that provides work for its members. This investment allows employees to take an active part in the development of the business. Sectors that often adopt this type of cooperative include business succession planning, manufacturing, IT, transportation, new technologies or multimedia. Given the opportunity to become shareholders, workers have a natural incentive to enhance and sustain the business. 

Other benefits of this type of cooperative include: 

  • Closely collaborating with management 
  • Getting people involved in achieving business objectives and proposing new ideas 
  • Ensuring a pathway for business succession 
  • Boosting workforce retention 
  • Improving organization capitalization 

For instance, take Robotiq, a global network of robotics experts based in Saint-Nicolas, Quebec. This co-op fosters collective success by inviting all employees to join the cooperative, which holds shares in the business capital. 


In a solidarity cooperative, various members join forces to achieve their shared goals. This type of cooperative can include up to three distinct types of members: 

  1. Users of products or services 
  2. Workers employed by the cooperative 
  3. Individuals or companies interested in supporting the cooperative’s mission, known as support members 

In a solidarity cooperative, workers, users and any other individual or company interested in the business’ goals can collaborate to fulfil their needs and aspirations. These cooperatives are commonly found in sectors like home services, the environment, sustainable development, tourism, catering, childcare and local or neighbourood services.   

Its advantages include: 

  • Efficiently uniting people with a shared cause 
  • Getting people involved in achieving business objectives and proposing new ideas 
  • Ensuring a pathway for business succession 
  • Boosting workforce retention 
  • Improving organization capitalization 

For example, Vallée Bras-du-Nord is a solidarity cooperative that brings together employees (worker members), tourism service providers (user members) and landowners (support members) to collectively ensure the sound management and quality development of local tourism infrastructure. 

Interested in a particular type of cooperative? 

In short, approximately 3,000 cooperatives and mutuals are active in Quebec, bringing together 8.8 million producers, consumers and workers. Thanks to the pooling of their members’ resources and expertise, cooperatives have a 44% higher survival rate than other business models. 

Did you know that the CDRQ can help you with your start-up? Click here to find out more! 

Charlotte Desmarais Communications advisor