“The Kootenay Co-op is committed to providing the highest quality, affordable natural foods and products.”  -excerpt from the Kootenay Co-op Mission Statement

In order to make sure that we are fulfilling this essential aspect of our mission, we have created what we call the Kootenay Co-op’s Buying Guidelines, which provides our product buyers with a framework for deciding whether or not we should carry each individual product. These guidelines require that we weigh multiple criteria when making decisions.

In other words, we do our homework on every product we carry!

We also build in flexibility with our guidelines, so that we can respond to our member’s requests, help local businesses succeed, and make grocery shopping at the Co-op accessible for everyone in the community.

Our members can take heaps of pride in these guidelines! It is significantly because of our members that we have direction on the most important criteria to consider when sourcing and selecting products and reviewing existing ones. Here are some of the most important:

 What we look for:

Certified Organic

Our unwavering commitment to Certified Organic foods stretches back to our inception in 1975.  Purchasing Certified Organic foods is the best way to avoid GMO contamination, support healthy food and farm systems on a large scale, and ensure that there is third-party oversight of production and distribution methodologies from the soil right through to our store.

 True Local

“True Local” is how we at the Kootenay Co-op define and label products grown or processed in our bioregion. Why do we think this is important? Because we believe that purchasing from our bioregion is an investment in the future of our food security and the economy of the area that immediately surrounds us. We make every effort to support agricultural and food processing initiatives in our bioregion that are in line with our Buying Guidelines and values.

True Local bioregion

– West to Grand Forks and Midway
– East to Creston / Canyon / Lister and East Kootenays to Invermere and Fernie
– North West to Nakusp including Arrow Lakes region
– North East including Kaslo, Meadow Creek, Trout Lake, Argenta and Johnson’s Landing
– South to the US border

Fair Trade

We support and promote products certified by Fair Trade Canada and its governing body Fair Trade International as well as grassroots Fair Trade movements across the globe that fall under the Fair Trade International umbrella.

We will retail products certified by Fair Trade USA, but we have ethical issues with Fair Trade USA’s 2012 split from Fair Trade International.

Humane Animal Husbandry

Beef, Bison, Lamb, Pork, Poultry, Eggs and other Meats:

We pledge to our Members that we will visit farms within our True Local bioregion prior to committing to initial purchases from farms not already certified by the SPCA, KLAS or an accredited organic certifying body.  Through farm visits we will verify to the best of our knowledge that farms are fulfilling our Buying Guidelines while recognizing that intensive audits of operations are beyond our scope.  We recommend all True Local farm products and/or Certified Organic products to our more discerning Co-op Members.

With our non-local suppliers, we do our best to ensure that our Buying Guidelines are met but we are limited in our appraisal without physical farm visits.  We welcome interested Members to visit these farms, will share contact information and we encourage interested staff to visit these more distant farms if they are interested.

If a member is concerned about any of the Co-op’s suppliers, regardless of location or industry sector, we urge you to bring the concern directly to our attention so that we can investigate the matter further, and take appropriate action that we feel would be in the best interest of the membership.

  • All poultry must be fed a vegetarian diet.
  • Meat products in pet foods may not meet these standards.       At this time we cannot commit to the standards for meat products in pet food products due to lack of available sources and ingredients. Buyers will look for every opportunity to find the best available sources for meat products in pet foods.

Statement on Nitrates – Nitrates have long been used to preserve processed meats by safely extending the duration meats can be cured for. Without nitrates, products like Bacon or Ham can’t be cured as long, or as safely. Consequently completely nitrate free Bacon or Ham tastes bland, is grey in colour, and can’t be sold legally in Canada unless it is frozen. The effect of nitrate consumption on human health is very controversial. Some people are very sensitive to nitrates and should avoid them.


Oceanwise Seafood

We will carry seafood from reputable sources that adhere to “Ocean Wise” standards. These criteria are as follows:

  • Abundant and resilient to fishing pressures;
  • Well managed with a comprehensive management plan based on current research;
  • Harvested in a method that ensures limited by catch on non-target and endangered species;
  • Harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats and negative interactions with other species.

Seafood purchasers will work on an ongoing basis with suppliers to ensure the most ethical possible sourcing by our suppliers is occurring at all times.

Minimal Packaging

As minimal as possible. Preference for – no packaging (bulk), reusable, recycled, and locally recyclable materials. No styrofoam and wherever possible no non-recyclable materials.

Fair Pricing

Price should be affordable i.e. realistic and appropriate for the product and comparable to similar product.  Buyers will seek out the lowest prices and work for deals with the Co-op’s brokers and suppliers.


A note on Food Advocacy:

An often unseen aspect of our Buying Guidelines is our advocacy on behalf of our Membership with all levels of Government and all sizes of businesses for higher standards and better products.

Whenever possible, the Co-op will prioritize products produced and distributed by companies whose politics and procedures are in harmony with our Mission Statement and Goals.   When a company is in clear contradiction to our Mission Statement, we will make every effort to find alternative sources for their products although we consider formal publicised boycotts outside of our realm of advocacy.


Products and Ingredients we avoid:

Genetically Modified Organism’s (GMO’s)

We recognize the potential health and environmental hazards associated with Genetically Engineered (GE) foods and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in our food chain.  Working outside of the confines of natural possibilities, these alterations leave a risk of unknown consequences to the ecosystem and public health.

We believe the best way to avoid GE and GMO products, is to consume only Certified Organic food.

We accept and embrace responsibility on behalf of our Members for disseminating information and advocating against GMO’s.

We recognize that consumers expect natural and organic products to be free of GMOs and are endeavoring to meet that expectation to the best of our ability.  Therefore we are no longer accepting new non-organic food (not supplements) that include more than an estimated 2% GMO high-risk inputs as listed in the Non-GMO Project’s Appendix B (excluding Animal Derivatives,) unless they are enrolled in the Non-GMO Project or can provide us with a detailed description of measures taken to avoid GMO contamination.

GMO High-Risk Items:

The Kootenay Co-op requires less than 2% (by combined weight) of the following ingredients:

Crops:    Alfalfa, Canola, Corn (excluding popcorn,) Cotton, Papaya, Soy, Sugar Beets, Zucchini, Yellow Summer Squash.

Processed/Processing inputs and ingredients, and related derivatives, derived from crops, livestock, or microorganisms:    Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavourings (“Natural” and “Artificial”,) High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrin, Microbial Growth Media, Molasses, Monosodium Glutamate, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein,Vitamins, Yeast Products.

Additives & Preservatives

We will prioritize products free of artificial coloring, chemical additives, preservatives, and flavourings.

We strive to be as diligent as possible looking for the cleanest, most wholesome products possible while also weighing member demand for bridge products.

Conventional Products

We will only consider “conventional” products under the following circumstances:

  • When only conventional products are available from our Bioregion or Province, and these products are deemed a viable alternative to certified organic products from farther afield.
  • When a Certified Organic or Natural alternative does not exist that meets very particular flavour profiles and there is demand from our Members (particularly with Ethnic foods.)
  • When the Buyer/Managers knowledge of the supplier and their production methodologies is such that they feel comfortable purchasing from them.  This may be verified through farm visits.
  • When the product contains less than 2% ingredients at high risk for GMO contamination as defined under Appendix B of the Non-GMO Projects Standards (excluding animal derivatives.)

Conventional Produce

Conventional produce will only be sold in exceptional circumstances.  All conventional Produce will be clearly differentiated from Organic or KMG certified with an orange framed sign stating clearly “CONVENTIONAL.”   Conventional produce sales have included wild harvested mushrooms, young coconuts, lime leaves, hichima and lemongrass.

 Transitional Produce

We support producers making the transition from conventional agriculture to certified organic.  Supporting documentation must be provided by the producer to verify transitional claims.


When deciding whether to carry a product, we also consider:

  • Demand or the perceived demand from our members for a product
  • Products/Suppliers will be evaluated initially and on an ongoing basis as to their total environmental impacts
  • Products/Suppliers will be evaluated initially and on an ongoing basis as to their total social impacts
  • Products that are produced or supplied by other cooperatives will be given preference over products that are not
  • Products supplied through pyramid marketing or multi-level marketing structure will not be considered


The Co-op exists to fulfill our member’s mission. We hope you will become part of this on-going dialogue!

Have more questions for us about our Buying Guidelines? Great! Contact our Store Operations team.