During the years 2003 and 2004, Cooperative Development Services, National Cooperative Grocers Association, NCB and NCB Capital Impact received a rise in inquires from local communities seeking to start food co-ops. Realizing that there was both a need and an opportunity to provide better support to these groups, Cooperative Development Services began a research and development project based upon a vision of a support system that enables a faster and more effective startup process. The outcome was the development of a cooperative development model.

Food Co-op 500 was created with the goal to support the start-up of 200 or more new stores by the year 2015. With funding from Blooming Prairie Foundation and NCB, Food Co-op 500 was launced in July, 2005.

In November 2006, Stuart Reid was hired as the first-ever national food co-op development specialist focused on start-ups. FC500 began producing training documents, workshops and other forms of support for organizers. In collaboration with the CDS Consulting Co-op, we have presented over 20 live web-based training sessions and workshop series at CCMA and other conferences.

In 2010, we incorporated as Food Co-op Initiative, a 501(c)3 non-profit foundation carrying forward the mission of Food Co-op 500. Our primary funding now comes from a USDA Rural Development grant and a five-year Blooming Prairie Foundation grant. Additional support comes from individual donors, established food co-ops, cooperative developers, and businesses.