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Grocery Stores

Karma Co-Op

Posted by Robyn Urback / Posted on March 14, 2011

Karma Coop TorontoKarma Co-op is a not-for-profit food store tucked away in a residential area on Palmerston Ave. Though it has served as an alternative to commercial grocery stores for nearly 40 years, Karma is still easy to miss.

After a few wrong turns, I realized I had to actually wander down an alley to get to Karma's entrance. From the outside it seems as though someone's set up a makeshift store from his or her den, but inside there are rows of packaged food, bins of bulk items, meats, produce, household products and more.

Karma Coop TorontoKarma's members are also its owners, who contribute back by working at the store, volunteering their services, or participating on one of Karma's committees. Members used to be required to pay a loan of $70, but ownership has changed recently and that figure is in debate. Meanwhile, membership fees remain at $10 for three months, amounting to $40 per year.

Karma Coop TorontoKarma stocks its shelves with eco-friendly, sustainable, local products made with as little packaging as possible. Items such as rice (brown basmati: $5.04/kg), pasta (organic quinoa/rice spaghetti: $11.29/kg), peanut butter (organic smooth: $9.49/kg) and dish soap (Nature Clean: $4.42/kg) are housed in bulk containers and are self-serve.

Karma Coop TorontoUnlike in most grocery stores, many of the fresh item descriptions at Karma not only tell you which province or state they're from, but also which farm produced the product. For example, when I visited Karma had stocked up on eggs from Hope Eco-Farm in Aylmer, Ontario ($5.32/doz). The chalkboard in the produce section also lists how many locally grown items are in store on any given day (46, when I popped in) and Karma's Twitter feed lets members know when new produce will be in store.

Karma Coop TorontoAnd the impulse buys near the cash? Well, you probably won't find info on LiLo's latest rehab stint, but you can pick up a copy of Shameless, Bitch, or Adbusters. And lots and lots of fair trade chocolate.

Karma Coop TorontoKarma Coop TorontoKarma Coop TorontoKarma Coop TorontoPhotos by Dennis Marciniak

Discussion

29 Comments

jim / May 24, 2009 at 06:24 pm
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what is the lacation?
Elf / October 27, 2009 at 06:13 pm
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Karma is a wonderful place. If you care about eating local, organic, chemical-free or un-packaged foods, not to mention being part of a community of involved and interesting people, why would you shop anywhere else?
Josée / March 13, 2010 at 10:41 am
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Jim, 739 Palmerston Avenue, just north of Bloor. visit www.karmacoop.org for more information. Come by for a trial shop :)
just throwing it out there / March 15, 2011 at 09:22 am
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The ladies who shop here don't shave.
Lio replying to a comment from just throwing it out there / March 15, 2011 at 09:32 am
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nice! i'll fit right in.
Ilia / March 15, 2011 at 10:16 am
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We need this in Leslieville!
margarets / March 15, 2011 at 11:35 am
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Karma Co-op is a slight rip-off. In various ways you pay more for the same products you can regular health-food type stores and organic grocers.

Prices are higher, you have to pay a membership fee, plus work there so many hours per month, or pay a fee in lieu of working.

Karma does offer a great deal more info on the *provenance* of the food they sell than any other store I know. That may be worth the extra cost to some people.

But since it's a non-profit, I tried to figure out WHY Karma costs more and where that money goes. As far as I can figure, it goes to paying their staff better-than-average grocery store wages. Which is fine. It just seems to me that the whole co-op set-up seems like an awfully elaborate way to get that result.
michaelkim replying to a comment from Ilia / March 15, 2011 at 11:42 am
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Yes we do! btw until a Karma opens in the east, there's a new grocer that opened up in Pulp Kitchen's old spot. Kinda small but has the basics.
SH / March 15, 2011 at 12:09 pm
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I've got no personal beef with Karma, but I gave up on this place shortly after moving into the neighborhood. I was willing to work a few hours a month, but the fact that most of the cashiers are only there for the same scanty amount of time means that every little problem takes longer to solve. Too many times in those first months, I'd stop in to buy one thing on the way home and stand in a one- or two-person line for twenty minutes. So, just as it's understandable that things cost more there, it's also understandable that it takes longer...but for me the good karma wasn't worth it.
Liam / March 15, 2011 at 12:55 pm
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I have to agree with margarets. I expected good prices, considering it's a non-profit. The prices were no different. I didn't really get the whole "everyone's an owner" concept, because at those prices someone's turning a profit, or at least getting paid. It's a great idea, but poorly executed, in my opinion.
Greg / March 15, 2011 at 04:12 pm
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Just to clarify: Karma is a not-for-profit. Non profit implies that there is no profit to be made in a store like this and therefore everything should be sold at whatever cost would be deemed fair (see: Anarchist Collective). As a not-for-profit, any excess revenue is filtered back into the co-op to help with the operating budget. Grocery stores require a lot of revenue to keep running, to ensure the buying power they need to purchase the quantities and varieties of goods that Karma carries. And of course, part of that operating budget is staffing expenses. While the store strives to keep its prices competitive with other businesses who operate with a larger volume of sales and therefore benefit from a larger purchasing power, our advantage is that we're fair about our prices. We remain transparent about the markups we use on our various grocery goods to let the consumers know what their prices are being marked up by. And thats something unheard of in any grocery store! Love it or hate it, Karma is a one of a kind Annex find!
n / March 15, 2011 at 05:56 pm
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40 clams a year + work there and all to pay more for organic products than at say Kensington Market? No thanks
tony / March 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm
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good luck finding organic produce in kensington..even the place(s) that claim they do are questionable..and the prices are much higher than at karma.

having shopped at almost every grocery store in toronto for organic food..karma is at the low end of costs.

one visit is all you will need to be convinced. i look forward to my weekly karma trips. i use to work there each month but now i just pay a 10% fee each time i shop...i find the price is still competitive with the 10%.

besides, it's not all about $...karma is a great community and you can trust where the food is coming from...unlike most "organic" grocers in toronto.
Linus / March 15, 2011 at 11:10 pm
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Karma has become my favorite grocery store not only because of its price and transparency in pricing but also you can trust that when they say a produce is organic it is organic, unlike most other places in the area/Kensington market (as far as I know Kensington only has 1 grocery store that sells real organic fresh produce but less in selections.) Many grocery stores charges a low margin on some products to get you to go and spend money on products that charge a higher margin, but Karma tells you exactly what margin they charge you, and if you have seen their financial statements, you know they are reasonable. It's also their support of local farmers (when in season) and bulk shopping and the people that makes me travel all the way to the Annex every week just to get my groceries.
Hanah / March 16, 2011 at 11:59 am
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I dispute the claim that Karma is more expensive than other organic grocery stores - I've found it to be the cheapest around (blows Whole Foods out of the water). Karma also sells conventional groceries much cheaper than local grocery stores. As for time, again, I find the lines shorter than other stores in the neighborhood.

Other pros:
-Smells good
-No terrible muzak
-Almost never crowded
-Cashiers are not dead-eyed zombies whose will to live has been drained by their terrible grocery-store job
-Other customers are members too, so the atmosphere is great; no rude people abusing the cashier over the price of discount pizza bagels
-You get to know the staff and other members so it's a bit of a community
-You know that someone has thought about the environmental/social costs of every product on the shelves

Con:
Occasionally some stuff is out of stock. This is a tiny store and they don't have much room for overstock. In my opinion, this slight inconvenience is far outweighed by the pros.

Misc:
If you don't want to work 2h/month as part of your membership, you can pay 10% extra on your groceries.

In sum, highly recommend.
margarets / March 16, 2011 at 12:10 pm
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Um, yeah. *Every* grocery store is cheaper than Whole Foods.

Karma is not cheaper than other natural/organic-type for-profit stores in the same neighbourhood. I checked. Carefully. Making sure to compare identical items and everything.

Not only is the sticker price usually higher or at best the same (I never saw a LOWER price at Karma, though I'm sure it has happened at times), one has to factor in the cost of the membership and labour. There is no such cost at a regular for-profit grocery, even the independently owned organic ones.

The other stuff re: staff friendliness etc - you can get that other places too.
szavazat / March 17, 2011 at 02:06 am
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My experience at Karma the non-profit grocer co-op happened around the holidays, with the added pressure that it was my 1st time making Christmas dinner, and I decided to make Karma my last leg in an all day downtown visit.
Overall the atmosphere was great, things were tightly spaced but neat, the staff were helpful when I asked about sundried tomatoes, and nut free yet filling granola bars, and yes the food was highly priced a little more than I’m used to at say farmers markets, but I was willing to make an exception. I spent a long time filling my basket and knew that my produce alone was going to cost a lot, but at least it was to support a business that supported us. When I got to the front they asked me about membership, I told them that this was my first (and likely only) time here b/c I live far away and was in town visiting. Then I mentioned that I was a vendor, excited to see the peddling of some of our merch, and THE reason I came out of my way. So they told me that I could have a one time trail shop.
OK I thought, that would be all I need, but I was then informed that I would have a 10% surcharge added to my subtotal, silly me I assumed that the “one time trial shop” offer was free (it doesn’t state otherwise on their FAQ)! And I had already spent a pretty penny 80$ on the organic local meat, and 100$ at the LCBO so that news was a hard pill to swallow. But it was dusk and I invested so much time hand selecting the produce, so I sighed and nodded my head, little did I know that soon something so simple as wet parsley would break me. I had subconsciously packed my parsley, which had been kept fresh in a bucket of water, in one of Karma’s thin plastic produce bags, as she punched in the parsley I also noticed a 5cent charge for the bag, which is when something inside snapped and I stopped to question her. Why was I being charged for the bag?!!! No other grocery store charges for these flimsy plastic bags I said, NOT EVEN THE BIG CARROT, And maybe if there was signage of said charge near the roll dispenser I wouldn’t have taken one!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn’t continue the transaction after that point so I walked out, into the cool December air, took a breather and went home feeling spent, irritated and disappointed. In the end I finished my xmas shopping at the big carrot the next time I was in town, and I would never join a co-op that required a membership, I’d rather join a CSA.
szavazat / March 17, 2011 at 02:08 am
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My experience at Karma the non-profit grocer co-op happened around the holidays, with the added pressure that it was my 1st time making Christmas dinner, and I decided to make Karma my last leg in an all day downtown visit.
Overall the atmosphere was great, things were tightly spaced but neat, the staff were helpful when I asked about sundried tomatoes, and nut free yet filling granola bars, and yes the food was highly priced a little more than I’m used to at say farmers markets, but I was willing to make an exception. I spent a long time filling my basket and knew that my produce alone was going to cost a lot, but at least it was to support a business that supported us. When I got to the front they asked me about membership, I told them that this was my first (and likely only) time here b/c I live far away and was in town visiting. Then I mentioned that I was a vendor, excited to see the peddling of some of our merch, and THE reason I came out of my way. So they told me that I could have a one time trail shop.
OK I thought, that would be all I need, but I was then informed that I would have a 10% surcharge added to my subtotal, silly me I assumed that the “one time trial shop” offer was free (it doesn’t state otherwise on their FAQ)! And I had already spent a pretty penny 80$ on the organic local meat, and 100$ at the LCBO so that news was a hard pill to swallow. But it was dusk and I invested so much time hand selecting the produce, so I sighed and nodded my head, little did I know that soon something so simple as wet parsley would break me. I had subconsciously packed my parsley, which had been kept fresh in a bucket of water, in one of Karma’s thin plastic produce bags, as she punched in the parsley I also noticed a 5cent charge for the bag, which is when something inside snapped and I stopped to question her. Why was I being charged for the bag?!!! No other grocery store charges for these flimsy plastic bags I said, NOT EVEN THE BIG CARROT, And maybe if there was signage of said charge near the roll dispenser I wouldn’t have taken one!!!!!!!!!!!! I couldn’t continue the transaction after that point so I walked out, into the cool December air, took a breather and went home feeling spent, irritated and disappointed. In the end I finished my xmas shopping at the big carrot the next time I was in town, and I would never join a co-op that required a membership, I’d rather join a CSA.
jim / March 17, 2011 at 09:51 pm
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you spent $180 on meat and booze and complain about a 5 cent bag. you are very dumb.
d.w.red / March 19, 2011 at 12:00 am
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I can understand people being upset about the prices. It's a culture shock to everything that North American consumerism stands for at the moment.
The reason you see so many big box stores out there, is because they figured out that by buying in massive quantities and building 40,000 squarefoot eyesores they could keep their costs low and therefore knockout the smaller competition. As to whether that's sustainable, time will tell.
I haven't shopped at Karma, but I believe this is REAL fair trade. They aren't going to be able to compete with other grocers, because you can't and still be fair to every one. So are people making money? Yes, I think they are. But I would hope in a situation like this, that it would be going to the right hands, which you know isn't the case with those other supermarkets.
shawn / March 22, 2011 at 11:29 am
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Prices - I find many things at Karma ridiculously cheaper than other stores. The cheese and maple syrup my roommates are bringing home from kensignton and other health food stores seem to be double the price. Their honey comes from a beekeeper using high standards of practices and is cheaper than you can find at farmers markets from people who make no such claims.

5cent charge for the bag - Isn't this supposed to be the law? At any rate those who join get a formal introduction to the store and know there is stockpile of bags/containers/jars brought in by members who no longer need them that are free. You can't find that at any other store.

CSA - Is a good idea, but if you can survive off a CSA alone I'd be impressed.
Kristin replying to a comment from szavazat / March 25, 2011 at 06:42 pm
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@szavazat - I'm sorry you found your trial shop to be such a shock. This I believe is one of the reasons that Karma has discontinued allowing trial shops, though we do make an exception for dealers. It is a member owned and operated grocery store and there are a lot of differences between Karma and for-profit chain grocery stores. Nobody is forced to join and nobody is forced to shop there. There are lots of other places to shop.

At Karma committees of owners decide store policy (such as charging for bags and what percent price increases to apply to products in order to cover our costs). When you sign up as a member or are considering becoming a member then all of these things are explained. All non-working members pay a 10% surcharge on the sticker price of groceries and trial shoppers are treated as non-working members. All our financials are transparent to members. If you don't like a policy you can join a committee and try to have it changed.

For me the prices are fair for the products. Our produce is consistently fresher than other stores selling local/organic produce in the neighbourhood. And if we don't have something on the shelves the staff can often special order it for you! What other grocery store offers that kind of service? If it is something you think others might like you can submit it to the committee who sources the products to see if it's something that could be added as a regular stock item. My husband and I joined about 6 months ago and have been very happy with the selection.

It's not for everyone but I would hope that anyone visiting would give this little grocery store institution that has been around for decades now the respect it's due for the contribution it has made and continues to make to the community. The more often I go and shop and work the more I learn about the amazing people there who care so much about supporting local farmers, sustainable agriculture, fair labour practices and other neighbourhood not-for-profit charities/organizations. I love it.
a hairy lady replying to a comment from just throwing it out there / September 25, 2011 at 12:05 pm
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how awful that must be for you ...
janardhanan / October 1, 2011 at 12:47 am
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chennai tamilnadu India needed this type of stores fruits vegtables salesOrganization : consultant
Contact Name : janardhanan r
E-Mail : rockram2011@gmail.com
Job Title : consultant
Address : door no 35 nagathamankiols text 12th avenue ashok nagger
Chennai 6000083
City/State : chennai
Zip/Pin : 600083
Country : India
Website : na
Phone :! 91--9444400009
Fax : 91--
Donald / January 28, 2012 at 11:16 am
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I have been a member at karma co-op for 2.5 years. I can say that for me it was an intelligent choice, perhaps the best decision I have made.

I find karma to be more reasonably priced that other large conventional grocery chains.

I purchase many bulk items, meat, eggs, supplements and produce.

Longo's across the street from me wants 6.99 for 200 grams of organic almonds.

At karma the same thing costs half of that.

A container of almond butter costs me $4.00 in bulk.

A huge bunch of collard greens is only 1.99.

A dozen free range eggs in bulk is 4.86

A huge bag of organic quinoa from bulk cost me 3-4 dollars.

Being on the community development committee we have done extensive and thorough price comparisons and all in all, karma wins for prices.

Plus there is a food safety committee that checks to ensure our food is coming from reliable sources and that it is what it says it is. You just won't find this anywhere else in Toronto.
adegbemi Gabriel / February 17, 2012 at 08:43 am
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We hereby apply to be one of your Suppliers of dried/preserved/powdered vegetables and foodstuffs for Nigerians and West Africans residing in your place of location.

Crownie Farms service is located at 41,oshola streety,Ifako-Ijaiye,Lagos State,Nigeria,23401 is an upscale full production farm,which offers wide range of cultivation of vegetables which includes Corchorous Olitorious,Okro,bitter leaves,chilly,Baselia Alba,melon,Garri,Groundnut oil,Palm oil and Yam in a well preserved form.Our target market s are West Africans mostly Nigerians residing in the USA,Canada,and UK willing to consume /eat their local meals/dishes.The farm is a Sole Proprietorship owned by the Promoter himself.

PRICE LIST: PRODUCT PRICE
* Corchorous Olitorios (EWEDU) US$23 per kg
*Okro US$22 per kg
*Bitter leaves US$25 per kg
*Chilly pepper US$30 per kg
*Baselia Alba (UGWU) US$25 per kg
*Melon US$30 per kg
*Garri US$8 per kg
*Groundnut oil US$7 per litre
*Palm oil US$4.5 per litre
*Yam US$6 per tuber.

You can make your order anytime of the year and our distribution strategy is:Producer-Retailer-Customer and this can be through Home/Office Delivery or coming around for your products or through Logistics(Airlines),depending on your choice of interest.

We shall be looking forward reading and hearing from you soon based on your order.

Yours faithfully,
Adegbemi Gabriel.O.
+2348057601847.
ems replying to a comment from margarets / June 18, 2012 at 01:46 pm
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I have worked at quite a few health food stores.
All of them are expensive. Mostly because it is REALLY expensive to buy local, organic. In terms of the Co-Op aspect, actually there are quite a few "Co-Ops" the Big Carrot being one of them that is NOT a "Co-Op" whatsoever. Karma offers a hands on approach for the community to get involved. It has been around for 40 years I think. How many places do that?
Reading / September 6, 2013 at 01:15 pm
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I have been wondering about Karma Co-Op as it is very close to my house. I especially like the fact that weight is in KG(kilograms) as opposed to LB(pounds). I was actually having a conversation with a friend about how some places charge by the pound/lb so you are actually paying so much more for not a very good price (1 kg = 2.2 lbs)

So I am very curious to see how prices stack up when looking at it this way. I am hoping to take a trip up there in a couple weeks and see about doing a trial shop. Because I feel like 40$ is not that bad and 2 hours of volunteering a month is really nothing. (But then I have volunteered most of my life at art galleries and since living in Toronto for TIFF)

I like the idea of Karma Co-Op and intend to write a review based on my experience once I go by. I love the concept but I also shop regularly in Kensington Market so I will be able to compare fairly well. And if they are really cheaper, then I know a few friends who will be coming along right behind me
Anuja / May 11, 2014 at 10:27 pm
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I quite liked the store. It was like a hidden treasure.


www.earthyspices.com

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