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Cobuy - Group buying software that helps people buy good food at good prices, together.

Group buying directly from wholesalers eliminates supply chain waste in the retail sector & minimises packaging as items are bought in bulk.

Photo of Dan Lewis
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What is cobuy?

Cobuy is an app that makes buying groups/co-ops easy to start, maintain, and grow. Using the collective buying power of a group, people can buy food in bulk directly from wholesalers. By cutting out retailers, we effectively eliminate retail food waste, save money and have access to a wider range of better quality products.

(Note: Our definition of a co-op is a group of people who buy together, so the terms "buying group" and "co-op" are used interchangeably.)

the problemS

Typical supply chains waste food

A huge amount of food is wasted as it travels through the supply chain to the consumer. While consumers are the main culprits (buying too much food and then having it spoil), retailers also waste significant quantities. They buy to stock shelves, and when food spoils before it is sold it is sent to landfill. Countdown is one of the main supermarket chains in NZ, and they alone send over 10,000 tonnes of food to landfill each year.

The table below shows that 10% of all food in the supply chain is wasted at the retail level. 

Co-ops are tough to manage

Many co-ops currently use spreadsheets to manage their orders and finances. Spreadsheets can be a good tool to begin with, but quickly grow to be complex, unstable and time-consuming to manage and use. Most co-ops we've talked to find spreadsheets to be the biggest pain point in running their groups - it takes a lot of time and effort for both members and admins, and is a technical barrier for many to starting their own co-ops.


Rethink the supply chain

Buying food as a group, directly from suppliers, means that  the food waste that normally occurs from retailers is virtually eliminated. Co-ops have no need to over-purchase for convenience like supermarkets do, and goods are usually collected within a day or two after arriving from suppliers.

By helping Co-ops coordinate we can create a new market group of coordinated buying power. This will cause the supply chain to self adjust to meet this new opinionated and coordinated distributed demand.

Beyond helping coordinate consumers we will be working to build tools for suppliers/producers, logistics, processing and warehousing.

Co-ops help reduce food waste

People buying through co-ops tend to be more deliberate about their food purchasing, and only buy what they need. Surplus, if it occurs, is often onsold throughout the group or to other groups. These practices mean that in addition to cutting out retailer waste, there is also less food waste generated by consumers.

Make co-ops more resilient

If co-ops are easier to operate and maintain, then more people buy food together - which results in less food waste. Groups will be more sustainable and easier to scale. Aside from impacting food waste, stronger co-ops result in stronger local communities, and provide more visible examples for other people thinking about starting their own co-ops.


Helping create community

Food and food waste are such a central part of the way we live. Purchasing better food together for less is the central activity of a buying group, it becomes a cornerstone of the group and allows for other activities to start occurring around it. Developing friendships, local trade, sharing food abundance (before it becomes waste), networking , creating group agency within the local society and more. These less tangible and measurable benefits are what having community is. 

Cobuy app

Cobuy is an app that helps groups buy together. We want to reduce food waste in the supply chain by making it easy for groups to organise their collective food purchasing - giving them the power to buy good food directly from wholesalers, bypassing retailers. Organising through an app means everyone can be involved in the process and make good decisions about what they buy, making groups more sustainable.

Cobuy targets one part of the supply chain story, but successful co-ops have effects at other stages too. Making co-ops easy to operate allows small, local suppliers access to markets they are currently shut out of. For example, a member of our group, Michael, has family that grows nuts on a farm in rural NZ - but they aren’t large enough to connect with traditional supply chains. We connected them with Sarah’s co-op, who placed a large order with them, and they are now targeting their sales towards more co-ops around the country as a way to expand their business. We are interested in the future of creating tools to connect suppliers like Michael’s family’s farm with buyers through Cobuy - as well as tools for other activities involved in the supply chain!

"More co-ops means more local food production, more consumer choice, and reduced transport costs." - Sarah Rogers :)
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User journeys

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User research

We hired a UX designer to interview both current co-op members and non co-op members around their views on co-ops, the process of buying as a group, and what was important to them about buying food.

Post-it noting

She synthesized the interview material down to key themes, giving us insight into why people buy through co-ops, and what matters to them.

UX research findings

She gave us a number of ideas to explore as we continue design iterations on the app.

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A key finding, for example, was that many users would want to use the app on mobile. We’ve since adjusted our design and development plans to be mobile-first.

initial Wireframes & user feedback

Wireframe feedback form (please add some comments if you feel inclined)

View feedback

Supporting Documents

Cobuy business plan

Cobuy stakeholder map and activities





punchy closing statement

Cobuy is an app that saves time, reduces food waste, and gives power to individuals and the co-ops they belong to.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We can test Cobuy with the two local co-ops that Sarah (Cobuy team member) is a part of. They are eager to start using Cobuy, as they currently experience the frustrations of using spreadsheets to manage their orders and finances - and the limitation of taking on more members.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Global networking - gathering contacts for buying groups/co-ops around the world, spreading the word about Cobuy.

Tell us about your work experience:

We’re a team of five developers who build software that scales. We work within Enspiral’s diverse pool of professionals, which means we can access a network of marketers, designers, and business experts as we grow. (

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It was in the works before this challenge – it’s existed for 2-6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

Cobuy is a tool to make buying things together easier. Let's say our extended family wanted to share the cost of purchasing food that is normally quite expensive or not widely available. By using Cobuy we can coordinate what all the separate households want. We will save money and be able to buy specialty items like gluten-free and kosher/halal products.

How is your idea unique to the space?

One of our main observations when researching alternatives is that most other solutions lock participants into buying from selected suppliers. We think that co-ops should be able to buy from whomever they wish, and Cobuy allows them to do so. This kind of open model enables and encourages locals to be entrepreneurial through selling to co-ops, which fosters the local grassroots economy.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

Co-ops Existing co-ops are going to be the primary users in the medium term. Fostering relationships within the networks surrounding co-ops will be key. Local government/community infrastructure Co-ops benefit hugely from leveraging local infrastructure, locations that can act as drop off/collection points and as nodes of the communities that develop around them.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Food Waste - The amount of food bought via Cobuy allows us to estimate the amount of food diverted from landfill - No. of new co-ops forming over time gives an indication of food waste prevention Social - No. of co-ops using Cobuy lets us estimate time saved regarding co-op management - No. of new co-ops forming over time is an indication of new local communities Environmental - No. of local suppliers co-ops are using is an indication of emissions prevented through local food networks

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

We will operate with multiple workstreams: - Starting to code - it is what we do best and will start to give us real momentum. - Continue to test ideas with users (through a digital/cardboard clickable prototype). - Networking with co-ops and attending key conferences/events.


Join the conversation:

Photo of DANDAN PU

Hope I am not too harsh as I have something want to concern.
First, as I known the producer offered the lowest price to their business partner (the retailers) because they can sell their product in a big amount.  If you offer the apps to provide the food ordering, I think the producer will set up the higher price than supermarket if the requirement of food from the apps is not bigger enough than their business partner. 
Second, I am not sure I am right. For my understanding, I think your company is the delivery. How can you guarantee the food will not be damaged when you delivery?
Third, I am living in the apartment and I have the whole day job from Monday to Friday. How can you deliver the fresh food for me as I am not at home at the day-time, Or if you will drop-off the food from the front deck, how can you guarantee the food will not rot before I pick the package. (PS: If i order the fresh fruit and meat.).
Plz correct if I am offence. 
Thank you!

Photo of Dan Lewis

Hi Parisa,
1) Some wholesalers may do this (indeed Sarah's co-op have enquired with a couple of suppliers whose prices were more than what they could buy at the local supermarket), but the majority offer significantly cheaper prices (we did a comparison and found co-ops save members up to 80% in NZ), especially since they can supply in bulk quantities instead of individually packaged items.
2) Cobuy does not facilitate the delivery, just the order process.
3) See above.

Photo of Nora Dong

I also think the fresh food is very important when you order online. I used to order the gym food for a whole week, the first two days it still taste good, however, after it stay in the refrigerator more than 4 days, the food does not taste good enough. And sometimes I can not finish all of them before the expires date.
It is good that this app see itself as a part of the supply chain. But it seems not consider the food transportation. That also waste a lot of food on the road. And the type of foods. You need to find different supplier to support your supply chain and make sure each part will on their right way once this running.

Photo of Max Noble

Well done project!

Photo of Buddhima null

Neat idea! I can help test your wireframes and such. Let me know :)

Photo of Dan Lewis

We have updated our entry with a business plan. In which we have an area for partners.

We would love to hear from peeps if anyone has a suggestion for a partner.

We have been thinking about it in terms of:



Out of OpenIdeo we are totally going to talk to Chad Knutsen from this entry about collaborating the

Haven't yet - its on the backlog ;)

Any other suggestions welcome!

Photo of Nai Xuan Chen

There are similar things already happened in China I think. People join in a group purchasing to get what they want with lower price and good quality from many trader within the large online platform with an app (not only one app). So what's the difference between your idea and the one already exists for long time?

Photo of Dan Lewis

Great question. We are aware that there are several pieces of software in this space. I'd say we are the new kid on the block who are looking to do a mobile-first experience and that building software from scratch on new software paradigms and frameworks trumps old software any day. In other words "ones already existing for a long time" does not mean they're better - and can mean they're worse.

I do think our vision may differ - we don't want to just solve the admin problem of buying groups, we want to make the supply chain open and accessible. Getting there starts with co-ordinating  buying power.

Thanks for the question - that one has popped up before and I am still not sure if my answer is satisfactory. I will think about it some more.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Welcome to the Refinement phase Dan! We've added new Refinement questions to your original submission that we'd love for you to answer. Please check out the Refinement Phase Toolkit for instructions on how to answer the new questions and other recommendations we encourage all idea teams to consider in the upcoming weeks.

Refinement Phase Toolkit:

Lastly, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 09/28" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!

Photo of OpenIDEO

Hi Dan, we updated the link to the Refinement Toolkit. Please use this new link instead:

Photo of Chad Knutsen

Great plan mate. I can definitely see how my organization could collaborate with you as a provider of great quality ingredients. Also we could connect you with our collaborating farmers and producers to get more of their fresh produce into your channels as well if that's of interest to you. I love connecting the dots and helpin good ideas grow. You've got one. Let's work together.

Photo of Dan Lewis

Awesome bud! Yeah your idea totally rocked - seemed so obvious and sci-fi at the same time. Cobuy is step one of building supply chain software. We have a dream of building up tools across the supply chain. I would love to look at how we can collaborate. 

Please checkout the ValueFlows initiative.

This is a collaboration to develop a universal technical model that allows for multiple systems to be interoperable. It is very much the foundation upon which our thinking and software stands.

Photo of Chad Knutsen

Very cool. I feel that by implementing your trade infrastructure, and a blockchain based source-supply verification to ensure clients/customers can track the foods they order and know where it came from and whats in it without second guessing, we could build a model for centralized management of decentralized waste streams. 


Photo of Dan Lewis

Awesome thinking! Yes such things would definitely be where we wish to move in the future - a distributed protocol running on distributed infrastructure. The centralized management would occur by participants committing/allowing their nodes to be coagulated.

Please look at the awesome work done by the peeps on Secure Scuttlebutt - "Secure Scuttlebutt is a database protocol for unforgeable append-only message feeds."

example apps being built on it:
Distributed Social Media: Patchwork

Distributed soundcloud:

Git repos on SSB ;)

Big thanks to the ssb team - I cant wait to build on their amazing work.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Dan!

I am pleased to see the updates to Cobuy. How much are cooperatives willing to pay for Cobuy? Have you thought about what sort of business model you would use to sell Cobuy?

Photo of Dan Lewis

I wrote such a wonderful reply and then lost it when a tab closed by mistake... and am now in that place where I don't think I can bring myself to type it all again.

So the TLDR is:

Our research showed buying groups would be ok with a fee of 3-5%

Buying together can save between 30-40% depending on the items.
Groups always have an admin cost - that might be donated time or paid via a fee.

I will write up a business model and link to it in the main area. In short:

Our software will be open source. This will mean anyone can spin up a version on their own infrastructure for their group. We will have a pay what you want option for these peeps. This is important for communities who do not have good/expensive international internet access.

We will also have a hosted offering where you create a group on our system. This will operate with the 3-5% transaction fee. An added service will be payment solutions like paypal and also access to a supplier directory.

Another key part of our strategy is to have a "growth hack" to give the groups a referral opportunity. This will be something along the lines of:
"If you refer another group onto the Cobuy service we will reduce the transaction fee for both by 0.2%" - up to 5 times :)

The rationale behind this is to give out savings instead of spending money it all on marketing.

Ha i think that was a better reply than the last anyway.

Photo of Kate Rushton

Thank you, Dan, for replying so quickly and being so clear and succinct. :-)

Photo of Amber Matthews

I'm interested in seeing how this idea will be implemented. Will there need to be a lot of trust between those buying the food together?

Photo of Dan Lewis

Great question Amber! I really had to stop and think for a moment about it.

In the buying process for a group participant there are two moments when trust is needed:
1. when handling money - one person receiving collective funds and then paying a supplier.
2. when receiving and divvying up goods received - packers parting out bulk items.

Initially, Cobuy will be an aid to making these two jobs simpler, quicker and more transparent. But they will still require trust amongst the members. 

We do plan to start to bring together stories and guides on how to establish and maintain a healthy coop. Trust will definitely feature on that list.

In the future we plan to provide a payment service that will allow for people to pay by card. We have spent little time on what the practicalities of this are, as we feel comfortable with punting it down the line. This would lower the amount of trust needed to take action as a group.

Trust is amazing - within the network, we have talked about it at length. My point of view is that with trust you can just get stuff done. It can replace entire processes, checks or contracts. You can also use it to hold things together. The flip side is that when stuff goes wrong it can put immense strain on your group trust. 

I think with Cobuy we are trying to mitigate some of the risk of the latter happening. It can reduce the risk of things going wrong, can provide on-demand reports and provide notifications about actions that need to be taken. eg automated invoices with reference numbers and reminders and packaging instructions.

If you have a follow-up question I'd love to hear it :)

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Dan!

Sorry for jumping on this thread. 

Based on your research into cooperative groups, how much is each individual paying per transaction/per month etc.?

How tech savvy are these individuals?

Would integration with the various payment splitting solutions or be an option for greater transparency in the longer term?

Photo of Dan Lewis

No Apology needed! the more questions the better.

Within the buying groups, we have spoken to we have seen a range of fee systems. Generally, these can be broken down into:
1. Setup/Joining fee,
2. Monthly fee/donation - often this is to cover assets and the dropoff/pickup location,
3. Fixed Per transaction fee - I would need to confirm this, but I think this was more popular in bigger groups as it required less admin.
4. Percentage transaction fee - anywhere between 5-15%

Q: How tech savvy are the peep? 
In general, I'd say fairly. Typically there will always be a more tech savvy peep in the background providing support - often around spreadsheets.  I'd say people learn fast and the groups are typically supportive of helping new people learn the processes and systems.

Yes or something like it would be amazing in the future, its quick and in real time. New Zealand now has almost instantaneous bank transfers (0-2hours) - so payment is less of a pain point here. Though we know this is different in other countries and we will need to look at payment integrations.

As far as transparency goes Cobuy will already be providing all the data to everyone. ie everyone will know who has bought what, how much and who has and hasn't paid. This is important as it allows the group to act in a more informed efficient manner.

Photo of Amber Matthews

Awesome! You should also check out what the Occupy movement used

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

Dan, groups can not just buy, but sell too. :-)

Photo of Dan Lewis

Yes you are absolutely right!!!! VERY EXCITED ABOUT THIS BIT

Cobuy has no opinion on who the supplier is. 

So one group could say buy apples in bulk, make apple juice and then sell it to other groups!

Or a group member could sell to only the group they belong to. eg I make a limited batch of chutney - I only want to sell it to my coop buddies.

Suppliers as businesses is a bit different and require slightly more out of their software - However we want to start with the consumer side first and than move to supply.

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

Are you perhaps looking at running a database of inventory at different locations(accountholders), and matching the demand for certain foods with their supply from other accountholders...with each account holder updating their inventory as needed?

Photo of Dan Lewis

Wooaaaah you are totally dreaming of the bright new future of transparent supply chains with BIDIRECTIONAL information sharing, allowing for automatic supply rules to be applied. Welcome to our world!

In short, at the moment I can say WE are not looking at doing this. We would like to build the base systems to allow for such initiatives to be built upon. In a sense, we are looking at a platform play where other initiatives can be developed on the platform (plugins) and more elaborate systems can be built to be interoperable with various parts of the platform. For example existing inventory management systems.

I can't wait to see a supply and demand matcher uperer! 

Photo of Mitul Sarkar

If you build it open source...they will  come
(Field of Dreams)

Photo of Dan Lewis

We will be open sourcing as much as possible! It is very important to us.
Here is our github org
Things that we will have to see about will be those things specifically to do with our hosted service.

Photo of Vanessa Shaw

Hi Dan Lewis Congrats! I want to say that I like this idea - as a consumer I'd love to find ways to co-buy, especially bulk items. For example I'm personally trying to find a way to buy responsibly produced meat, grass-fed and free range, humanely treated. The best option seems to be to buy a whole animal and divide it up with friends and then store in a freezer.  This is an appealing idea though software that could help link me up with other neighbors and not just relying on my friend network could be a useful service. Best of luck and thanks for sharing your creativity with the world! 

Photo of Dan Lewis

Thanks for the comment. I totally feel your need - within the buying group I participate in we have bought pork from a farmer and also venison from a hunter. However we obviously need to part out all of it. Participants typically reach out to other networks or across multiple buying groups to do this. 

The CoBuy software takes care of the administration of this, making the networking and connecting far easier. Part of the hosted service we will provide is keeping a directory of sort for suppliers and buying groups to make it easier for groups to sync up for the bigger harder purchases. eg 20ltrs of Maple Syrup - YUM!

Photo of Kate Rushton

Congratulations on being one of the forty ideas in the refinement phase. 

Photo of Dan Lewis

Oh Wow - awesome news to wake up to! Our team are currently retreating in a batch in rural nz. I'll let everyone know over communal  breakfast.

Photo of Ahmed null

Very nice approach! I would like to have your feedback on this idea which is quite in line with yours:

Photo of Dan Lewis

thanks - have left you some thoughts on your idea :)

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Dan! Thank you for sharing Cobuy. I like that you have clearly determined the biggest pain point for cooperatives and are building a solution around it. I like your wireframes too. Do you have a link to a prototype site or a video demoing the use of the software? Are there any specific skills or contacts you would require assistance with from the OpenIdeo community?

Photo of Dan Lewis

Hi Kate, we have very intentionally not built any software yet :) The wireframes were worked up in collaboration with an UX designer/researcher friend of ours @jasminmayfield. Our plan is to take these and turn them into a mockapp to give people a thing to play with and get a feel for what it is about.

Skill wise we are well supported by the enspiral network ( of awesome people. For us to take this to level we wish to, we would be looking for help getting this software into the hands of people across the world. We are pursuing this as a social enterprise meaning we have focused on existing food cooperatives and semi-formed groups. In the future we wish to help new groups form. 

Looking to that future it would be huge to have help in connecting with the right people so we can get this thing rocking. I have just got back from the Canturbrary Tech Summit which had some interesting talks. But the real value and opportunities I came across were in all the conversations I had, meeting new people and making new friends. Shout out to, and - some of the amazing connections and new relationships I forged.