NZ’s co-operative economy has been comprehensively mapped for the first time, revealing the significance of the sector in terms of revenue, jobs and membership, as well as obvious differences between NZ’s and other co-operative economies globally.

A new report, The Co-operative Economy of New Zealand, finds that NZ’s Top 30 co-operatives and mutuals generate revenues of more than $42.3 billion per annum which equates to 17.5% of NZ’s GDP, while being responsible for 1.4 million memberships and the employment of 48,500 New Zealanders.

The report – a collaboration between Cooperative Business NZ and researchers from Massey University and the University of Auckland – was funded by Fonterra (lead sponsor), Ballance Agri-Nutrients, CDC Pharmaceuticals, Co-op Money NZ, Farmlands, Farmers Mutual Group, Foodstuffs – South Island, Market Gardeners, Mitre 10, Ravensdown and Silver Fern Farms.

The distinguished and widely published research team – Dr Elena Garnevska, Mr DJ Apparao and Professor Nicola Shadbolt from Massey University and Dr Lisa Callagher and Dr Frank Siedlok from the University of Auckland – say their report provides a much-needed glimpse into a sector of significant economic and social importance to the country.

Co-operative Business NZ’s Chief Executive, Craig Presland, welcomes the report and its findings.

“With almost one fifth of New Zealand’s GDP being generated by the co-operative sector, almost 50,000 Kiwis employed by co-operatives and mutuals in this country, and almost one in three Kiwis being served as a Member of a co-operative in NZ, this confirms the importance of the co-operative business model to New Zealand as a country.

“The co-operative ethos of working together collaboratively for the common good is part of who we are as New Zealanders, and as our new Prime Minister remarked at an industry forum last year: ‘Co-operatives are the business model that has stood the test of time’.

“We now have the opportunity to extend our research on co-operatives, and advocate even more strongly for them, so that we ensure this enduring and sustainable business model is better understood and more widely utilised across NZ business.”

“We now have the opportunity to extend our research on co-operatives, and advocate even more strongly for them. . .”

Co-operative Business NZ Chief Executive, Craig Presland.

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Lead researcher Dr Elena Garnevska of Massey University says the results help us to better understand and promote the co-operative business model to policy-makers, consultants and other stakeholders.

“With 1.4 million memberships, the results show how much the co-operative economy is woven into the everyday lives of New Zealanders,” she says.

The report shows NZ’s Top 30 co-ops and mutuals are very strong in agri-food, accounting for 65.2 per cent of revenue, 67.6 per cent of assets, and 82.8 per cent of employment in the co-operative economy.

The next largest sector by revenue is retail and wholesale, accounting for 30.3 per cent.

Strikingly, the agri-food and retail and wholesale sectors account for twice as much of New Zealand’s co-operative economy compared to the World’s Top 300 co-operatives and mutuals and three times that of Australia’s Top 100.

“We expected the agri-foods sector would be important but we were surprised to find it is twice as much as the global situation,” Dr Garnevska says.

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“The results help us to better understand and promote the co-operative business model to policy-makers, consultants and other stakeholders.”

Lead researcher Dr Elena Garnevska of Massey University

 

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The study also revealed significant differences in New Zealand’s insurance, banking, and finance sectors compared to overseas trends. Globally, the insurance, banking, and finance sector accounts for 45 per cent of revenue in the co-operative economy, whereas in New Zealand, it is only 3.4 per cent.

The report identifies a wide variety of ways that New Zealand’s co-operatives and mutuals contribute to the country, through their development and empowerment of people, finding new ways to sustain growth in an uncertain and rapidly changing environment, and putting environmental and social impacts at the heart of their business.

Various awards for excellent consumer, employer, and health and safety practices, profitability over extended periods, and leadership of both social and environmental initiatives illustrated these contributions.

The authors hope the report will raise the profile of co-operatives and mutuals in New Zealand and fuel more research within the co-operative sector.

University of Auckland researcher Dr Lisa Callagher says, “Currently New Zealand does not have a research centre with a clear focus on co-operatives and mutuals to co-ordinate and deliver research and training support, but these centres are common in other countries.

“This study provides a broad snapshot and a solid platform to develop new training and education courses. But more research and education is needed to pinpoint strengths, opportunities and evolving needs. Future research could look at the sustainability of the co-operative business model and map long-term trends and cycles,” she says.

The report identified the Top 30 co-operatives and mutuals in New Zealand using publicly available and validated data. Using common measures that enable comparison across countries, including revenue, assets, membership, and employment, the report provides the first systematic presentation of New Zealand’s co-operative economy.

A triple bottom approach was used to provide further insights about the ways that co-operatives and mutuals contribute to people, profit and planet.

 

Image of Lisa Frank.

“Future research could look at the sustainability of the co-operative business model and map long-term trends and cycles.”

University of Auckland researcher Dr Lisa Callagher, pictured with Dr Frank Siedlok.

Co-operative Business NZ’s Chief Executive, Craig Presland, summarises the report’s key findings:

  • The higher than expected share of GDP
  • The higher than expected number of members
  • The even greater dominance of the agri-producer co-op sector than first thought (more than twice the share of agri-producer co-ops globally, more than four times that of Australia)
  • The growing emergence of retail/wholesale co-ops in NZ
  • The lack of insurance, banking and financial services co-ops in NZ at present
  • The virtual non-existence of co-operatives within the public sector in NZ (eg. health, housing and social care) while this is a growth area internationally.

Craig says the figures are compelling.

“Here in New Zealand, we clearly operate within one of the most co-operative economies in the world. We now need to exploit these opportunities and address these challenges effectively and with speed”.

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