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Different Cultures Share a Supermarket Dream

by Meredith Mullins on March 6, 2017

Man with shopping cart at La Louve, the new Paris food co-op that unites different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

La Louve: A new Paris food co-op is born from a cross-cultural dream.
© Meredith Mullins

La Louve: A Paris Food Co-op Innovation

You wouldn’t expect a supermarket to grab newspaper headlines. But La Louve, a new food co-op in Paris, has been doing just that.

What makes it newsworthy? It’s the first cooperative supermarket in Paris—a social experiment where members are responsible for the direction and daily functioning of the enterprise.

It has the added unique quality of being modeled after an American food co-op and creatively sculpted to work in France. An intriguing blend of different cultures.

Child shopping at the Paris food co-op La Louve, showing a successful blend of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A supermarket for all ages
© Meredith Mullins

Realizing a Dream

France is not new to the concept of cooperatives and is certainly not new to the advantages of blending the best of distinctive cultures.

There were some challenges, however, as Americans Tom Boothe and Brian Horihan dove into this adventure.

Both Tom and Brian were residents of France interested in quality food, the protection of the planet, and an alternative to a profit-oriented commercial approach to food shopping.

And both had experience with the successful Park Slope Co-op in Brooklyn, New York—an exemplary prototype for their dream.

Shelf of olive oils at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in blending different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Offering the best quality products at reduced prices
© Meredith Mullins

The mission was simple: to offer quality products at a reduced price and to be able to pay the producers a fair price for their products.

The question was how to fit this model into France—to work within existing laws, gain government support, and respect cultural preferences.

La Louve sign in the window, identifying the Paris food co-op and recognizing a merging of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

La Louve Supermarket in Test Phase
© Meredith Mullins

The She-Wolf Approach

 La Louve in French translates to she wolf. A strong alpha-female animal that protects and defends and does not stop until the work is done or the goal is reached. Family is paramount (as is survival of the pack).

The name seemed fitting as the seed of a dream for this experimental food co-op designed to build community around a common goal.

Tom and Brian met each challenge with cross-cultural intelligence. Six years of hard work and perseverance later, La Louve opened its doors.

Cashier line at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in the blending of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Even in the Test Phase, La Louve is a busy place.
© Meredith Mullins

Values and Principles

 La Louve functions via two primary concepts. It is a not-for-profit association whose members, as in all co-ops, participate in the governing and functioning of the supermarket. Members vote, as co-owners, on decisions that need to be made.

In addition, as in the Park Slope Co-op model, each member dedicates time each month to work at the co-op.

Woman marks prices at the refrigerator in the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in the blending of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A La Louve co-op member marks product prices.
© Meredith Mullins

For La Louve, members work three hours every four weeks. This requirement proved more difficult to implement in France, since it is unusual for someone to be required to work for no pay, even a modest three hours every month.

The work tasks for the co-op members range from cashiering to receiving deliveries, stocking shelves, cleaning, and managing administrative duties.

Three people discuss wine at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in the blending of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Co-founder Tom Boothe (also a wine expert) provides wine information to a co-op member.
© Meredith Mullins

As more members join the co-op, more jobs will be created. Since the Park Slope co-op was founded in 1973 and now has more than 16,000 working members, many different jobs exist there.

In addition to standard supermarket-type jobs, Park Slope members can accompany shoppers home or to the subway to help them with their packages; write for the LineWaiters gazette, a co-op newspaper to read while waiting in the cashier line; or wash the toys in the children’s center, since childcare is a service provided to shoppers or workers.

The member workforce provides a customer-oriented shopping experience, a spirit of community, and the low overhead needed to keep product prices at their lowest.

A man selects from the produce shelves at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in blending different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Organic produce from local producers
© Meredith Mullins

What’s on La Louve’s Shelves?

With brands such as Naturattiva, BioNaturae, Artisinale, and Naturata on the shelves, the underlying focus of the co-op is evident. Although there is not a requirement that products be organic (bio, in French), each offering is carefully selected to be the best and most healthful choice available.

The purchasing group (le groupment d’achats) invests time in researching each product. They conduct taste tests when needed to maintain their goal of quality—for example, sampling a variety of olive oils or chocolates or teas before deciding which to carry. (Put me on the wine team, please.)

Wine shelf at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in blending different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

It’s France! An incredible selection of wines
© Meredith Mullins

They also strive to source products from local, planet-friendly producers who share the same values and ethical and environmentally sound work practices as the co-op.

The products are selected based on group decisions and will evolve according to the wishes of the co-op members.

Shelf of potato chips at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in blending different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Organic potato chips—pourquoi pas?
© Meredith Mullins

Do you want a snack while you’re watching that soccer match? Reach for organic chili- or sour-cream-flavored chips. Do you have a chocolate craving? Try a Chocolate and Love bar.

Shelf of chocolate bars at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in blending different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Chocolate and Love
© Meredith Mullins

Are you looking for warmth during a cold winter? How about the popular lambswool socks. Do you depend on fresh organic fruit and vegetables? Local producers will deliver what’s in season.

All of these choices can be found at 15–40% less than at the major supermarket chains.

The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, talks with the diverse members of La Louve, the Paris food co-op that recognizes different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo (orange scarf), and the Mayor of the 18th arrondissement, Eric Lejoindre (behind her to the left), visit with members of La Louve.
© Meredith Mullins

What’s in La Louve’s Heart?

The diversity of the co-op members creates a vibrant dynamic. Although the store has been open only four months and is still in its test phase, there are more than 4500 members (with 42% living in the 18th arrondissement where the store is located).

This neighborhood was chosen, with the support of the City of Paris and the Mayor of the 18th arrondissement, because of the heterogeneity of the population and the need for a place where quality food could be purchased for a reduced price.

Two people chat at the food co-op La Louve in Paris, showing a successful blend of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A friendly environment for shopping (co-founder Brian Horihan center photo)
© Meredith Mullins

The project inspires a spirit of community. As one of the co-op members said, it’s great to see people really talking with one another in a supermarket. Another member mentions that she enjoys shopping with a smile. The camaraderie is a large part of the experience.

The project has also led to other new co-ops in France. Cities such as Lille, Bordeaux, Grenoble, Toulouse, Montpellier, and Marseille are following the same processes that La Louve implemented to reach a successful outcome.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo talks with members of the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in the blending of different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Mayor Hidalgo receives an honorary membership to La Louve.
© Meredith Mullins

The “Oh, I See” Moments

There are many “Oh, I see” moments in La Louve’s six-year road to reality. For me, as co-op member #6 (an early adopter), there was much to learn from the dedication of the original visionaries.

They were committed to their core values. Their hard work offered them little immediate reward other than the hope that the dream would someday become reality.

They rose to the challenges that molding an American food co-op concept into a French reality presented—different cultures uniting in a productive way.

And now, members reap the rewards of being able to shop with a smile.

Shopping cart at the Paris food co-op La Louve, an experiment in blending different cultures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Vive La Louve
© Meredith Mullins

For more information, visit La Louve Food Co-op, Park Slope Food Co-op, Food Co-op, the film by Tom Boothe, and City of Paris.

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