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Customer Comments

Olive Containers

Q: The new containers at the olive bar are really difficult to open. We ended up using a pliers to open it.

A: I am writing to let you know that we are in transition back to the previous Placon Hinged Deli Containers that were once in the Deli and at the Olive Bar. This transition, in total, will probably take us until the end of March, as we work with the supplier to use up inventory they had planned for us. That being said, I intend to instruct the Cheese departments (who manage the Olive Bars) to switch over as soon as possible to the old containers, while the Delis will work with the end-of-March timeline. 

Thanks for the feedback. Packaging is a really difficult aspect of food service to "get it right" in. Ironically, these newer containers came about in response to a number of customer comments like yours that expressed dissatisfaction with the previous containers. We're in a bit of a "lesser of two evils" position at this point.

Thanks again for your comment. -Patrick Schroeder, Prepared Foods Category Manager

Local products

Q: I’ve been a loyal customer for over a decade. In the 80s and 90s, my mother was a loyal customer bringing me in as small child when the coop was across the street. Each time, I would get the free piece of fruit and these little pouches of mint chocolate soy milk from the cooler. I have really fond memories of this. 

The coop has been a part of my life and has been prioritized due to my belief that the coop cared about the community. This is why I am willing to pay more than needed for groceries. Just yesterday, I brought in a homeless, pregnant couple who are living in their car with their dog and I spent around $350 on groceries for them. This was after I put $30 in their gas tank and gave them a $20. I am not made of money. I am not well off. And I could have gotten them the same staples at Hyvee or Wood-mans for a fraction of the price. But, again, my understanding was that the coop cares for the community, and I care to support that. 

Over the years, I have put in maybe four item requests. I have never once heard back. That’s a bit rude, but I get it. Tons of customers - whatever. 

But I found out last night that a struggling young business here in Madison has tried multiple times to reach out about her AMAZING products, and that the coop refuses to even consider her inquiries. It sounds like she hasn’t even gotten a real reply over the last year, and, moreover, it sounds like her local network of other local business owners have had the same experience. 

I understand that maybe there are non-competition contracts, or maybe there isn’t room, but the least the coop can do is be transparent with these struggling small business owners HERE IN MADISON about the process and what the hang up is as well as trying to problem-solve with them if other products they may make could be placed. 

I’m really rethinking my commitment to the coop as it seems the coop isn’t as committed to the community as I was led to believe. 

Last night, my fiancé and I went to Woodman’s. Despite their much lower prices, we spent several hundred there. I don’t know their policy on responding to local business owners, but honestly I don’t care. They don’t pretend to be more than just a store.

A: Thanks so much for writing with your concerns. I am the Purchasing Director at Willy Street. In this position I am responsible for overseeing the products we sell, our pricing, vendor relationships, and vetting new vendors. I also grew up coming to the Co-op with my mom in the ’80s and ’90s. We probably passed each other in the aisles! 

Your comment included a few points, so I'll try to take them one by one. 

First, our pricing. I very much appreciate your commitment to shopping at the Co-op and supporting our mission and the cooperative model! We do routine price comparisons with other local grocers (in fact I just finished one up yesterday), and we find that our pricing is generally competitive with other grocers of our size. That said, It is true that some larger grocers (such as Woodman's) have the purchasing power to offer slightly lower pricing on some items. If you'd like more detail regarding the price comparisons we do, I'd be happy to give you more information.

Regarding our vendor vetting process. I'm not sure which vendor you are referring to, or how they have tried to contact us. We do have an email address and a phone line specifically for new vendors. When they email this address: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (or call the phone line), they get a bounce-back message that explains our process. Because we have such a high volume of vendor requests (usually about 10-20 per day), we unfortunately do not have the ability to respond to each one personally if they aren't offering a product that we think will fit in our stores. The bounce-back message clearly states this. It also includes a link to the application for our Retail Ready Lab program, which is a program specifically intended to help new local vendors get a head-start in the retail space. I'm curious if the vendor you spoke with has applied for the Retail Ready Lab?

I know this process can be really frustrating to some vendors, especially local vendors. I myself am frustrated by it! When I started in this position several years ago, my intention was to find a way to create a system that is more vendor friendly, but the sheer volume of requests, coupled with the extremely limited space in our stores, has made this very difficult to do in an equitable and efficient way. I am continuing to work toward a better solution, and messages like yours help to bring home the necessity to do so!

Please let me know if there's any additional information I can give you, or any other questions you have—and thanks again for taking the time to write, I very much appreciate it. It's feedback like this that helps us to continue to improve! Best, Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director

Yumbutter

Q: As a long-time buyer of Yumbutter I am very disappointed to see they no longer use chia, hemp seeds and goji as their base for the specific nuts. Instead they are using palm oil and they do not say theirs is ethically sourced. This was once a wonderful local startup, but things have changed. I think you should consider a sign warning customers that these nut butters contain palm oil which may reduce orangutan habitat and other natural areas.

A: I appreciate you writing us with your concerns and sharing your opinion!! I reached out to one of my contacts at Yumbutter and below is what he shared with me in response to your email. I hope he helps to clarify the questions you have about their products. Please let me know if I can help further in any way. Have a wonderful weekend!! -Dean Kallas, Grocery Category Manager

“Thanks for passing this along. I am happy to say that we are still using chia, hemp seeds and goji in our superfood potions. These ingredients are still available in the following items:

6.2 oz Superfood Almond

6.2 oz Superfood Cashew

1.8 oz Superfood Almond

1.8 oz Superfood Cashew

Superfood Almonds Jars

Superfood Cashew Jars

I imagine he is referring to the "creamy" reformulations we recently did that do not contain superfoods. The "creamy" potions were made in an effort to get more of our yummy products to the masses. These potions were all reformulated at the same time we were able to bring the production of our products in house! The support of folks like him have made the dream of manufacturing our own products come true. That is what has changed here. Our drive to create a healthy, happy and delicious product has never changed.

Finally, we have always used palm oil in our products. We have always and will always use a sustainable source of palm oil. The palm oil source we use today is the same we used when we started. We pride ourselves on knowing our vendors and selecting ingredients that are healthy and responsibly sourced. Again, this perception may have come from the new packaging that we switched to when we were able manufacture them ourselves. For further clarity please visit rspo.org/certification. Our supplier is RSPO certified and is also a Fair Trade Certified Producer. 

If anyone has any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask. Tribe 9 is a group of wonderful local startups manufacturing awesome products under the same roof with the mission of improving lives through food. Best, Will, Yumbutter

Hot bar food allergies

Q: A person wrote to the editor about there not being enough options at the hot food bar for people with allergies. Anyone with a true food allergy would not risk the hot food bar. If you have a dietary preference to not eat gluten, please do not describe it as an "allergy". Food bars and deli foods have too much of a risk of cross-contamination for a person with an actual food allergy to even consider eating from. I appreciate the variety of food at the hot bar, though I personally wish there were more vegan options. You can please some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. I would like it if you color-coded your food labels by popular diet types (meat/vegetarian/vegan/GF etc) at the hot bar so I could tell at a glance if there were any vegan options. It can get pretty crowded up there and it is awkward to be in the way and trying to read the tiny print of the ingredients. Thank you

A: I appreciate you reinforcing the best practice of avoiding food bars for those with severe allergies. Even with clear standard operating procedures, the risk of cross-contamination can never be eliminated. 

Per your request about Vegan notation and availability: I'm putting together a project for our next Fiscal Year (July) to overhaul our signage assets and processes. The proposed outcome of this would be a iconographic representation of dietary applicability on our food signs and labels. We're not 100% how we're going to solve this problem, yet, but designating it as a "special fiscal year project" tends to get us rallied around it to the point that we figure that out.

Thanks for writing in. -Patrick Schroeder, Prepared Foods Category Manager

In-store music

Q: Have you ever asked customers if they want to hear to hear the music that's always playing in the store? 

I like much of it actually, but it's annoying as a shopper. I used to manage in retail and my employees always wanted to play music that they liked. I don't think that's a good business practice.

A: Thanks for your question! We haven't asked customers about the music we play, but we do monitor feedback (like this) about our music. We use an external system for our music selections where we select the mix but not the particular songs. We vary the mix over the course of the day. Ideally the music would rarely be noticeable—any time it's noticed, it breaks your concentration, even if you like the music. After all, you're coming to buy products, not to listen to music! I'll share your feedback with some others and we'll evaluate potentially turning down the music a bit so that it's not as noticeable. Thanks again and have a nice week! -Brendon Smith, Communications Director

Manager sightings

Q: As I look at the faces of the members behind the management of the CoOp, I find myself perplexed at how I don't recognize many of them as faces I've seen in my many dozens of shopping trips to the store on Williamson Street, where I've been doing my main grocery shopping since the 1990s.

A: Thanks for writing! I also joined the Co-op in the ‘90s, when East was the only store and across the street where the Social Justice Center is now. I agree, a lot has changed! It’s true, not all of the managers at our three locations are rooted in working at East, and that’s part of being a growing organization that serves a wider base of customers—our entire workforce has grown as well, with just over 400 employees Co-op wide. The entire management team is currently made up of both people who got their starts at one of the retail sites or kitchen, and people who have been first hired for the Co-op directly into administrative or management positions. Of the 13 directors who are currently serving on the general management team specifically, six held or now hold positions at East, three held or now hold positions at West, two held or now hold positions at North, two held or now hold positions at the Off-Site Kitchen, and five started in administrative roles or as directors. Please let us know if you have other observations you would like to share! Have a great week. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director

Policy governance

Q: Hello, I am consulting with another local cooperative in the wellness/fitness industry and they are considering hiring a manager to run operations. Currently, every single decision goes through a board. We are wondering if you could share some information with me, either by email or in a face-to-face meeting, on how it works to manage in a cooperative structure. Thanks for considering!

A: Our Board uses the Policy Governance Model to oversee operations. A simple way to think of policy governance is to think of a means to an ends. Our Board provides the Cooperative with “Ends” to achieve. The Ends are documented in a policy and states the overarching results that they want the cooperative to produce. Then, the Board delegates the “Means” to achieve those Ends to our General Manager, who then is tasked with maintaining and hiring a workforce that can produce the results. The Board then monitors our achievement of their Ends via reports from the General Manager on both how we are achieving the overarching Ends and how we meet the terms of the sub-policies that stem from the Ends and their fiduciary responsibilities. As you know, we are a consumer cooperative, and consumers who are elected by the consumers who purchase an equity share of our business govern our Board. Operationally, the consumer-owners adopt the bylaws that we are to abide and elect our Board to represent their interests in our mission and to provide our Ends. So our employees and our business structure are beholden to those bylaws, the mission, and to providing the Means to achieve the Ends (and labor laws, of course!). Our staff is organized in a hierarchy, with a general manager overseeing operations; a team of directors overseeing specific aspects of the business; and various department heads, supervisors, and some skilled and some entry-level positions taking care of all the special details that make our Cooperative a great place to shop and work. The Policy Governance Model is one that many other cooperatives has adopted for Board governance, as it provides a clear separation between the Board’s responsibilities and those they have delegated to general manager and her employees. As cooperatives are autonomous, our way of doing things is simply one way of doing them; there are other grocery co-ops and consumer co-ops who are organized differently or use other governance models to delineate responsibilities between governance and operations. For more information about the Policy Governance Model created by Dr. John Carver, please visit www.carvergovernance.com/model.htm. If you have other questions, please feel free to let me know and I’d be happy to see if I can point you in the right direction. Hope you’re having a fantastic New Year. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director

Food donations

Q: There was an article in The Guardian newspaper today that I thought might be of interest to you all, if you have not already seen it. The title was: “Co-op to fight food waste with pre-closing time donation scheme.” The sub-caption line was: “Retailer will give fresh produce to community groups two hours before stores close.” It’s about a co-op in the UK, but the ideas could be used here. I don’t know what your policies are regarding “use by or before” dates, but I thought that these folks had a concept that you might want to consider, or at least be aware of. If interested, the story link is: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/may/17/co-op-fight-food-waste-... Kind regards to you all. 

A: Thanks for writing to us back in May and sharing this idea. My apologies for not responding sooner. We appreciate your interest in this topic, and are pleased to report that viable food is first offered to the community before it ever goes to compost or landfill. Our current practice when we have a surplus of potentially viable product is to first offer it to employees to enjoy, and then contact Second Harvest Foodbank if there is still more available. They help us navigate whether the product can be donated and then whether Second Harvest will take it, or whether a neighborhood pantry in the area would benefit from the product more. Please let us know if you have any other questions or feedback. Hope you’re having a great start to the New Year! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director

Paper bags

Q: Please consider charging people for use of co-op paper bags and using the money for the “double dollars” donation. People who bring bags donate to this but it seems backwards and use of significant additional money instead of charging for bags and therefore encouraging people to bring their own bags. Very distressing to look around and see how many people are walking out with fresh paper bags. 

A: Thanks for the suggestion. At this time, there are no plans to change the way in which we incentivize reusing bags. We have budgeted for many years to provide a reward for reusing bags, previously via a 10¢ credit for every bag reused and now by giving that 10¢ to the Double Dollars program, which has now raised almost $174,000 since April 2017 and allows Community Action Coalition of South Central Wisconsin to offer Double Dollars for SNAP benefits users at local farmers markets and the Co-op (it costs about $80,000 annually at current availability). Converting the credit program to supporting Double Dollars (which covers about 67% of the total funding, and makes up less than 0.001% of our operating budget) has been cost-neutral if not better financially for the Co-op. We spend much less on bags, we are in the rare position to independently support this valuable program for our community, and the program incentivizes specifically shopping at the Co-op and shopping with local farmers. We prefer to use an incentive like this to charging people for bags because, in addition to using less disposable bags, it supports more people in purchasing fresh foods while rewarding bag reuse rather than creating a barrier by charging a penalty. Please let us know if you have questions about this program. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director

Senior discount 

Q: I love the coop I shop Willy East & North. I am a Senior & on a budget. How about a Senior day discount. OR better yet, an ongoing discount for Seniors. Thanks!

A: Happy New Year to you! Many years ago, the Co-op did have a discount program for seniors, and it was decided through work and input from staff, the Board and Owners that it would be more equitable to our entire community of Owners if we offered discount programs based on financial need rather than demographics. The program was replaced by our Access Discount Program, which offers 10% off all product to any Owner that can demonstrate they are utilizing one or more of the following: QUEST, Medicaid (BadgerCare/Senior Care), WIC, Section 8 Housing, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, Supplemental Security Income, Social Security Disability Insurance, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or FairShare CSA Coalition Partner Shares. If they are not utilizing one of those programs, Owners may also demonstrate eligibility by verifying gross income within the last year has been at or below 150% of the Federal Poverty Guideline. For more information about this program, please visit www.willystreet.coop/ownership/access-discount-program. We appreciate your concern for your budget, and if this program might work for you, we hope you will give it a try. Thanks for the suggestion! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director