So here we are, yet again, bringing you the latest in journalistic prowess. Okay, maybe that’s a bit of stretch, but hopefully you will find this article informative. Of course if you have any further questions or comments please fill out a Customer Comment form. After all, we wouldn’t be human if we didn’t strive for continuous self-improvement.

First of all let me just thank all of you loyal customers/owners for your continued feedback. It is a vital aspect in making this store a success not simply in terms of product movement but also product selection, customer service and that all important relationship I see between customers and staff. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with our Customer Comment forms, they are located just inside the store to your left near the Community Room.

Allow me to make a brief disclaimer if you will. A large portion of Comment forms often ask us to bring in a new product and as wonderful as some of these suggestions may be we are unfortunately limited by space. Please, don’t feel as if you are being ignored or slighted in any way—we appreciate the suggestions. There are times in which products are eliminated or the amount is reduced to create room for a new product.

And now, without any further delay, I give you the Grocery Department’s Top Ten Most Frequently Asked Questions...

Q: Where are the coffee filters located?

A: This has come up as one of the more frequently asked questions leading me to believe that perhaps some of you may need to cut back on the caffeine. Ah, I jest. The coffee filters are located in aisle five.

Q: Why are oats so frequently out of stock?

A: There are a few reasons behind the shortage of oats. One of the biggest factors is the oats themselves. Oats require warm weather but not hot and can be rather rain-tolerant. However, as with recent years, major crop areas have been afflicted by droughts (creating too dry of conditions) making it rather easy for a sudden storm or two to wash out an entire crop. The other large factor is supply. The best oats come from the Dakotas and Nebraska, placing a very large demand on these producers.

Q: Is there a guide for gluten-free products in the store?

A: Yes. You can locate a gluten-free list across from the Customer Service desk on the counter before entering the Community Room. This is a large list provided by the Celiac Disease Foundation and includes items not available in the store.

Q: Why do you carry Stoddard’s meat. What’s their story?

A: Stoddard’s Country Grove Market is a small processor located in Cottage Grove. They do not actually produce any of the meats used but rather offer services in butchering and sausage-making. The meats with a Stoddard’s label on them are conventional. In other words, no claims have been made suggesting the lack of antibiotics or growth hormones. They are a good company that offers delicious products for a reasonable price.

Q: What is the difference between organic eggs and cage-free eggs?

A: Organic eggs are regulated and certified by the Untied State Department of Agriculture (USDA). Organic certification requires that hens have access to outdoors, be fed organic feed, are free of hormones and antibiotics. The hens are cage-free and rules govern the number of birds that can be contained in a given facility. The primary difference is that USDA doesn’t regulate the term cage-free. Some egg producers have voluntarily participated in monitoring programs like Certified Humane Raised and Handled, which follow guidelines comparable to the USDA Organic Program. Complying with a regulatory program is a means of assuring a standard to the consumer by labeling the product with the proof of compliance from a third party. When is comes to the term cage-free, the best thing a consumer can do is contact the farmer and discuss first hand the quality of care the flock experiences. For cage-free hens, it is in the best interest of the farmer to provide adequate space to maintain a healthy flock and production capability.

Q: Is the Golden Guernsey brand rBGH free?

A: No, Golden Guernsey is not rBGH free. When the Food and Drug Administration approved the use of Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) we got a lot of questions about the Golden Guernsey brand. Since the FDA ruling, Golden Guernsey allows each farm to choose whether or not they incorporate the hormone in their management plan. Because this hormone occurs naturally, there is not a method to test for it. The only national regulations against the use of rBGH are from the USDA National Organic Program. When we contacted the Golden Guernsey customer service department, they expressed interest in hearing what their customers thought. If you would like to contact Golden Guernsey and talk to them about the use of rBGH in milk production their phone number is 1-800-289-7787.

Q: I would like to get this ____________ here. Other stores have it (Jennifer St, Whole Foods or Woodman’s). Why don’t you?

A: This particular customer comment is very important to us because our customers are the owners of our business. We strive to provide a quality selection of products to fulfill every dietary need and desire. Customer Comments are one of our unique forums for our shoppers to communicate what they would like us to do. Often these communications are testimonials about what products they have had and want to purchase at the Willy Street Co-op. We’d have a Willy Street Co-op in every neighborhood if could provide a product every time someone wrote, “I bought this somewhere else, and if you had it, I’d buy it here” or “I can’t find this anywhere. Can you get if for me?” We objectively evaluate every request and its potential value to our store. Sometimes the requested product is something we believe will enhance our selection and we will work to offer it, and sometimes we encounter the reality that we can’t fulfill every request or idea.

There are combinations of reasons why our product selection may differ from other stores. The most common reason we can’t carry everything every other store carries is our limited space. Another common reason is that we may sell a comparable product in the same category but from another brand. Sometimes the scenario is that none of our distributors carry the desired item and our means to obtain the item would make the shelf price undesirable to our customers. In a few cases the product is something that we just won’t offer.

Q: Why don’t you carry or sell or offer this ________ anymore?

A: The top reason we stop carrying any product is because customers aren’t buying enough of it at the Co-op, in our region or nationwide. The decision to discontinue a product is usually made primarily by our distributors on the regional or national level, then by us here at the Co-op and, in less common cases, by the manufacturers. Products that sell well here don’t necessarily sell well elsewhere and vice versa. If Willy Street Co-op discontinues a product you like there is still a possibility to get it by placing a special order. A special order is when we order something for you we don’t sell and it is only available in the case quantities that we’d have to purchase it in. If you don’t want an entire case or we can’t even get it for you, your last resort is a mail order internet retailer.

Q: What does Fair Trade coffee mean?

A: Fair Trade coffee is coffee that is certified to make sure the growers are getting paid a fair price. Each year a price per pound is set and growers are guaranteed at least that much. Fair Trade is not restricted solely to coffee growers but is expanding to include growers of various degrees. You can find Fair Trade chocolate as well as some produce. A common misconception attributed to items being labeled Fair Trade is that these products are also organic which is not the case unless specifically stated.

Q: Why is the cost of organics so much higher than non-organics?

A: Organics are expensive because the government doesn’t subsidize them. More care is also needed in the making of the products. And, fees to become certified are very costly.

I hope you find this was helpful information. Please continue to give us your feedback as it is appreciated.