Here you will find answers to some frequently asked questions.
Güter in general:
Güter is a group of people who are setting up a cooperative and self-managed store in Bern. The goal is to take the supply of everyday products into their own hands.
The Güter project is built on two pillars:
- Member store: All shoppers are also co-owners. There is no distinction between owners and shoppers in Güter. All shoppers are members and can actively shape the cooperative and the assortment.
- Participatory store: All shoppers are also co-workers. Each member works an average of 2h45 every four weeks in the store. This collaboration creates a connection to the project and a sense of community among the members. It also makes it possible to save on labor costs and keep sales prices low.
Güter also pursues two general aims:
- New economic circuits: with our project we want to create new economic circuits based on community, solidarity and sustainability.
- Good products for all: With Güter, we want to contribute to making high-quality food accessible to people with low incomes.
Güter is a member-driven cooperative. In the current project phase, much of the work is being done by five working groups (WGs): the Finance WG, the Communications WG, the Products WG, the Space & Infrastructure WG, and the Structures WG. Each of them deals with a central aspect of the project and ensures that we are optimally prepared for an opening. If you would like to get involved in a working group, you can contact them directly. You can find the email addresses HERE.
Basic decisions are made at monthly general meetings. The board, in which all working groups are represented, also meets monthly, but primarily has a coordinating function.
Would you like to know more about how we organize ourselves, how we make decisions, how we communicate with each other, or how and where you can get involved? Then take a look at our member guide! You can download it HERE (until now only in German).
At Güter, you are not a customer, but a co-owner, co-worker and shopper.
- Co-owner: You are a member and can co-determine the project and the product range. You can become a member here.
- Co-worker: As soon as the store is up and running, you help out as a member. You do this either in regular shifts (2h45 every four weeks) or irregularly if this better fits your schedule. Of course, this is not only done by you, but also by all other members. In this way, everyone contributes to the success of the project.
- Shopper: As a co-owner and co-worker you can buy goods and harvest the fruits of the collective work. You should also have access to high quality products through Güter – even if your financial means are limited.
Membership and participation stores are nothing new. There are numerous stores based on these principles:
- The best known and largest membership and participation store is the Park Slope Food Coop in New York. This has been in existence since 1973 and currently has about 17,000 members.
- La Louve in Paris is the largest such store in Europe, with more than 6,000 members.
- Also in Switzerland there are already some such initiatives. So far, however, they are limited to Western Switzerland: e.g. Le Nid in Geneva, La Fève in Meyrin or Système B in Neuchâtel.
In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, our membership and participation store will be a novelty.
Of course, what we need most as a membership and participation store are members who help support the store. You can become a member by filling out this online form. The more members we have, the easier it will be to start and the stronger the project will be.
As a member you can also actively participate in building the project. All you have to do is tick the appropriate box in the registration form and we will contact you. Of course, opening a store costs a lot of money. To help Güter to overcome this hurdle, you can subscribe to several share certificates when you become a member. You are also very welcome to make a donation – you can find the account details here.
Questions regarding the membership:
You can easily become a member by filling out this online form.
For the membership you have to buy at least one share certificate of CHF 50 (you can buy more than one!). This amount will be refunded to you if you leave the cooperative. Otherwise there are no costs.
Our goal with Güter is not primarily to build another grocery store. Rather, we want to offer the people of Bern an opportunity to take their supply into their own hands. We don’t want to be a service provider where operators and customers face each other, but a project supported by everyone. And that is what makes Güter unique! This also means that you need a membership to buy from Güter.
But it’s not a compulsion: there are plenty of stores where you can just walk in and store (if you want to and are financially able to) …
The rule is simple:
- Are you over 18 and want to shop at Güter? Then become a member.
- Are you under 18, but at least one parent or legal guardian is a member of Güter? Then you too can shop at Güter without being a member yourself.
Of course, you can!
It wouldn’t be quite so great if you were to make all of your flat-share purchases from Güter over a longer period of time without your flatmates being members of Güter. More sales mean additional income for Güter, but also additional effort. And in order to manage this effort, we need members who help in the project. If your flatmates like our products and prices so much, encourage them to become a member as well 🙂.
This has the added advantage for you that you don’t always have to carry all the groceries home 😉
In case of longer absences (more than 8 weeks), it will be possible to pause your membership. You will no longer be required to work, but you will not be able to shop at Güter during this time.
In such a case, there is the possibility to deposit your membership for an indefinite period. This way you can stay connected with Güter, even if it is no longer possible for you to work and shop at Güter.
Questions regarding the members’ participation
The collaboration of all members makes Güter unique. It creates a connection to the project and a sense of community among the members. Because each member knows that he or she contributes to the success of the project just as much as all the other members.
Members take on much of the work involved: unloading the delivery trucks, stocking the shelves, operating the cash registers, etc. They also take on work that would be too expensive with paid staff: for example, packing spices or cutting up cheese wheels. By having all these jobs done by members, great savings are possible. These savings are returned to all members in the form of low prices. Each member makes a small contribution and everyone wins!
The 2h45 may seem strange, but it makes sense: we actually calculate in blocks of 2h30. The quarter of an hour that goes beyond that is for the handover between shifts. After all, the person taking over your work wants to know what needs to be done.
Regular shifts are not every month, but every four weeks. To calculate in months would make planning very difficult, because the cycles would be irregular (30, 31 and sometimes 28 or 29 days). Therefore we calculate in regular 4-week cycles.
These regular shifts facilitate planning and are therefore central to the success of the project. For the members, they have the advantage that they always work with the same people and thus create well-rehearsed teams. For people who cannot take on regular shifts, there will be other possibilities for working shifts.
Güter wants to give as many people as possible the opportunity to help in the project. After all, the shared and jointly performed work is precisely what is beautiful about Güter 🙂
However, there are certain exceptions:
- For special situations (birth of a child, accident, illness, etc.) you can apply for a 3-month exemption from the obligation to work, which can be extended if necessary.
- Please contact us if you find it difficult to work for physical or psychological reasons. We will check with you whether we can reduce these obstacles to such an extent that you can still participate or whether we can completely waive the obligation to cooperate in your case. The same applies to family caregivers.
- We are currently discussing whether it should be possible to “retire” at a certain age. For these members, participation would then only be voluntary. However, we have not yet made a final decision on this.
In most other cases we think that the collaboration can be arranged. The collaboration is limited to an average of 2h45 every four weeks. That’s two to three episodes of your favorite TV show, a training session in your sports club, a band rehearsal, an after-work beer with friends – in short: not that much. In addition, there are different models of collaboration (regular shifts every four weeks or irregular shifts as a “Springer*in”). To a limited extent, there will also be tasks that can be done from home. So there should be something for everyone.
We have deliberately decided that the money available should not determine who works and who does not. That’s why there is no possibility to pay higher prices for goods and not to cooperate.
Questions regarding the product line
We strive for a full assortment. You should be able to buy all products of your daily needs from us: That means not only food, but also other everyday products such as hygiene products, pans or broomsticks. Our goal is that in the medium term, members will be able to do all their regular shopping at Güter and will no longer have to run to another supermarket to get the rest of their products.
What belongs to these everyday needs is decided not least by you: As a member, you can make suggestions for new products. If these do not run counter to the product criteria (see next question) and if there is sufficient demand, the product can be included in the range.
If you would like to be actively involved in the evaluation and procurement of new products, please contact the Products Working Group: firstname.lastname@example.org
The most important criteria for the selection of products are:
- Environmental sustainability (cultivation/production, transport distance, mode of transport, seasonality, packaging).
- Working conditions in the production and supply chains
- Animal care (if applicable)
- Political or social commitment of the producers
- Direct purchasing from producers
- Promotion of regional value chains
- Promotion of small-scale and smallholder agriculture
Thanks to these criteria, we ensure that we not only act in solidarity and sustainably within Güter, but also with the producers and our environment in general.
Yes, with Güter we want to ensure that high-quality and sustainably produced food is not reserved for the wealthy.
But it is clear that with this project we are entering a field of tension that we cannot resolve on our own: Low-income people depend on low-priced products. However, low sales prices are often accompanied by poor conditions in production. If we want better conditions in production, we have to pay reasonable prices to producers, which in turn raises prices for end consumers and tends to exclude low-income earners. So it seems to be an either-or: Either be accessible for people with low income and accept bad conditions in production. Or value good conditions in production and exclude low-income earners from the project.
We dare to want both! The following measures should help to make as few compromises as possible in production conditions and still remain accessible to people with low incomes:
- The participatory model is our strongest tool: it helps us to keep labor costs and ultimately margins low. The participatory model also allows us to take on work that would otherwise be too expensive: We can buy products (e.g. tea, spices, etc.) in large containers and then pack them ourselves into smaller portions. This allows for great savings.
- Direct relationships with producers: By bypassing intermediaries, we avoid additional costs and can still pay good prices to the producers.
- Two price segments for staple foods: We want to ensure that cheaper alternatives are always available on the shelves, at least for staple foods.
- Vouchers for people on low incomes: One percent of our margin goes directly to a solidarity fund. Every time you shop, you also have the option of making a voluntary donation to this fund. This money is used to issue shopping vouchers to people on low incomes. In this way we promote the idea of solidarity and redistribution even within Güter.
Of course, these measures alone will not be able to resolve the social differences. But they encourage us to deal with the contradictions and problems of this society. And they offer concrete opportunities to ensure in the here and now that high-quality products are made available to broader sections of the population.