A Co-operative Wholesale Society, or CWS, is a form of Co-operative Federation (that is, a Co-operative in which all the members are Co-operatives), in this case, the members are usually Consumers' Co-operatives. According to Co-operative economist Charles Gide, the aim of a Co-operative Wholesale Society is to arrange “bulk purchases, and, if possible, organise production.” In other words, a Co-operative Wholesale Society is a form of Federal Co-operative through which Consumers' Co-operatives can collectively purchase goods at wholesale prices, and in some cases collectively own factories or farms.
The best historical examples of this are the (English) CWS and the Scottish CWS, which are the predecessors of the 21st century Co-operative Group. Indeed, in Britain, the terms Co-operative Wholesale Society or CWS are used to refer to this specific organisation rather than the organisational form. However, the English CWS has inspired many imitations around the world (including, for example, the New South Wales Co-operative Wholesale Society who have also described themselves as Co-operative Wholesale Societies or 'CWS'.
The Co-op is still going strong but has to contend with other supermarket chains that offer ‘rewards’ to faithful customers.