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129. No longer a sleepy hollow

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Coop Name: GAY LEA FOODS CO-OPERATIVE LTD N° of Employees: 650
City: Mississauga N° of Members: 3389
Country: Canada Year of formation: 1958
Website: http://https://www.gaylea.com/
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About this coop:

Gay Lea Foods is a co-operative owned by over 1,200 farmers. That's approximately one quarter of Ontario's dairy farmers, with five production facilities spanning Toronto, Madoc, Mississauga, Guelph, and Teeswater. It manufactures a range of wholesome dairy products including milk, dips, butter, sour cream, whipped cream, and cottage cheese.

Michael Barrett was born and raised in the suburbs of Toronto, Canada’s big smoke. He trained as a teacher but then went to work in a stock market-listed multinational.

In 1999 he went to work for a small dairy cooperative, Gay Lea Foods. “Certainly Gay Lea was seen as sleepy hollow,” Barrett reflects. “It was a little business with mediocre returns to members.”

Four years later the opportunity to change was put in front of Barrett at a Canadian Cooperative Association corporate governance session. “I was evangelised. I was front row and thought this will work,” says Barrett now.

Since “rediscovering its cooperative identity” as Barrett puts it, Gay Lea has doubled its sales and returns to its members have jumped eight-fold. Barrett says Gay Lea is one of the few organisations in North America that is increasing benefits to its employees. “The difference with the cooperative model is the transparency.”

Transparency, that is, with employees. “It’s a very flat organisation where principle is much more important than profit.”

But what it really boils down to, Barrett opines, is that “the multitude will create more”. The “co” in co-op stands for togetherness, and with that togetherness comes success.

This story is an IYC Yearbook feature: https://ica.coop/en/iycbook

Author of this story
Kate Askew
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