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Action Following the Eden Foods Comment Period

By Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services

On August 2, Willy Street Co-op’s 30-day comment period on potentially boycotting Eden Foods came to a close. We opened the comment period due to high Owner demand over concerns about Eden Foods’ 2013 Federal lawsuit (Eden Foods v. Burwell) for the right to opt out of various health care coverages for employees on religious grounds. The comment period allowed for the Co-op to inform customers about a product issue that was on the minds of many; gave Owners a place to share freely and openly their concerns about whether or not the Co-op should continue to carry Eden Foods products; and gave staff a perspective beyond sales alone to take next steps. We have taken those next steps, and are thankful for all the extra insight provided by our thoughtful Ownership.

Owner Input

The only input we considered in making our decisions was input from Owners. Owners who commented directly on the forum had to use their Owner login on our website to join the conversation, and comments that came in via our Contact Us page and in-store paper comments were checked by name or Owner number to make sure the contributing person was an Owner. Comments on Facebook, Twitter, the Capital Times article’s webpage, and from local government officials were discarded because ultimately, we serve our Owners. We also asked staff who had opinions and are also Owners to contribute their comments on the online forum rather than internally. Verified Contact Us and paper comments from Owners were added to the online forum anonymously, so that all of the comments were available for all to read. While we wanted to offer Owners a way to contribute anonymously and allow Owners who are not computer users to have their voice, we also wanted to be completely transparent, so that all of our Owners knew what input we were considering. In total, there were 253 comments on the discussion board.

After August 2, we sorted all of the comments. After eliminating comments on the discussion board that were repeated due to being accidentally submitted twice, and eliminating comments we provided as part of moderating the discussion, we also chose to eliminate secondary comments from Owners who submitted multiple times. That way, we could fairly assess the first comment from each Owner who contributed to the conversation, and determine how many Owners actually contributed to the conversation. In the end, we were considering the thoughts of 165 Owners, about one half of a percent of our 31,107 active Owners.

Comment and Sales Analysis

57% of Owners who participated in the formal comment period asked to engage a store-wide boycott, while 43% asked that we keep the product or remained neutral, wanting sales to drive the decision on a product-by-product basis. 21% are currently conducting a personal boycott, and those Owners fell on both sides of the store-wide boycott debate. The personal boycott correlates with general sales trends, showing an overall product sales drop of 19% during the comment period from July 2014 to August 2014 and a drop of 27% from the same time period in 2013. When looking at sales to our Owners specifically (as opposed to all of our patrons), we see an 11% drop in Owners purchasing Eden Foods products over the course of the comment period and 32% from the same time in 2013.

Moving Forward

As noted in last month’s Reader, the comment period was never intended to be a vote, but rather an opportunity for Owners to provide input to staff on what factors about Eden Foods as a company play into your consumer decision making. The sample of Owners commenting seems to correlate with sales trends, and while sales have indeed dropped, they have not dropped enough to warrant a store-wide boycott. There are still enough Owners who want the choice to purchase Eden Foods, and have been doing so. That said, we recognize a need for the following actions:

  • The Co-op is discontinuing the following Eden products that are now selling below our standards:
    • Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
    • Apple Butter Spread
    • Toasted Sesame Oil
    • Udon Noodles
    • Soba Noodles
    • Montmorency Cherry Juice
    • Stone Ground Brown Mustard
    • Unsweetened Original Soymilk
    • Shelled Pistachios
  • We are removing Eden Foods black beans from our Everyday Sales Price promotion, and replacing it with Westbrae Natural black beans.
  • The Co-op has sent an open letter to Michael Potter, CEO of Eden Foods, available online at willystreet.coop/open-letter-to-Eden-Foods.
  • We will use commentary from the discussion and staff to review our boycott policy for future improvement.

Is There Anything Else You Can Do?

Owners or anyone else may certainly may write letters to Eden Foods about their actions and may also write to their US Senators and Representatives about the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States and/or the Affordable Healthcare Act.

  • Michael Potter, President, Eden Foods, Inc., 701 Tecumseh Road, Clinton, MI 49236
  • Senator Tammy Baldwin, 717 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510
  • Senator Ron Johnson, 328 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

You may find your US Representatives by visiting www.house.gov/representatives/find/.

Conclusion

Eating and shopping habits are influenced by a variety of factors for each individual. Many individuals at our Co-op are beginning to look beyond the food product itself and its environmental sustainability to other factors in how the food is produced, considering the people who make the food from farming to processing to distribution and sales. This should come as no surprise; co-ops are about the people who comprise it as much as their purpose or products. The Co-op has not forgotten Eden Foods’ contribution to a cleaner, more transparent, environmentally sustainable food system; their commitment to the small producers who provide the ingredients for their products; or their impact on our neighboring state of Michigan’s local economy. That is how they meet enough our our Food and Product Selection Philosophy criteria, and like we have said before, very few vendors could meet all of that criteria. Every business has strong practices and weak practices and since many of our Owners still see most of Eden Foods as mostly strong enough to still value their support, we have decided that it will continue to be up to the individual whether or not to purchase Eden Foods in light of that.

Thank you to the 165 Owners who contributed to the conversation and to all of our staff who helped us follow the conversation and the sales. We will continue to find ways to educate Owners and staff alike on food issues and corporate transparency and we will continue to encourage and support public dialogue even when we know consensus may not come to fruition. Our diverse voices making decisions together is what makes the co-op model unique and strong, and we appreciate you for playing a role in the dialogue.