Q: I noticed that you sold organic bell peppers from Israel about a week ago. I am quite new to the Willy Street Coop and have not been shopping there as frequently as I wish, so I am not sure whether you regularly source products from so far away. I was wondering whether it will be more economical and environmental friendly to import the same product from a neighboring country, such as Mexico. Thank you for very much for your attention! Best wishes
A: Thanks for writing! Though we do prefer to source produce (and other foods) from as close to home as possible, sometimes, in order to preserve a good supply, we have to look farther afield.
The Mexican pepper crop can sometimes gap as growers transition from one region to another. When this happens, we often get peppers from elsewhere, including Holland and Israel. These countries have invested heavily in infrastructure (greenhouses, etc.) for organic production of peppers, and their supply is generally pretty good.We generally have a great Mexican pepper supply January through March or so.I hope this is helpful. Feel free to reach out if you have further questions.
Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
INTEGRATED PEST MANAGEMENT
Q: We tried apples from Barthel (sp?) this year and have been blown away by how yummy they are. We’ve been supporting Ela for many years. I see that Barthel and Ela are both technically “conventional”, but is one or the other better in terms of “almost-organic”/environmentally sensitive practices? I’m sort of hoping you’ll say that Ela is closer to organic so that I have a reason to continue to support them even if their apples aren’t as delicious. Thanks!
A: I’m afraid I don’t have a clear answer for you. Both Ela and Barthel useIPM(Integrated Pest Management) practices to minimize the use of synthetic chemicals on their trees. I don’t think we can say one is “more organic” than the other. They’re quite similar in that regard.
Icansay that we won’t be able to stock Barthel apples every year. Bob Barthel sells primarily to our sister co-op, Outpost Natural Foods inMilwaukee. During years that they have a larger crop than what Outpost can sell, we carry their apples to help move the crop, but most years we don’t have the opportunity.
I’d suggest you enjoy whatever local apples you like best, and enjoy them now because they won’t last much longer. Both are supporting small Wisconsin orchards that grow tremendous fruit!
Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
Q: hi! I noticed you were featuring local people and their natural skincare products. How can I become a part of this? I make all my own soaps, lotions, face cleaner, etc. from the herbs I grow on our farm along with the beeswax we get from our bees :) I would love to find out about how I can get featured at the co-op. Thank you!
A: Hello! It sounds like you are talking about our Retail Ready Lab! If you are a local vendor who is preparing to sell productand would like to use Willy Street Co-op as a test market—the Retail Ready Lab is for you!Please review theVendor Welcome Letter, and if you are interested, please fill out the application.
-Angela Pohlman, Wellness Category Manager
Q: Hi! My friend is a part time employee of the Co-op. She told me that she and other part-timers will be losing their benefits soon. This surprised me. I always took pride in the fact that the store where I chose to do all my grocery shopping treated their employees “better than average”. Can you please explain the rationale behind this? I am seeing renovations and expansions, which are great, but I don’t want to leave the PEOPLE behind! Thanks for your time.
A: Thanks for reaching out to us regarding your concerns. Many other Co-op owners share your interest in the welfare of our staff, and we take staff compensation very seriously. In serving these concerns, we have committed to offering higher starting wages across the board at the Co-op as we work to reach a livable wage for all Co-op staff.
In order to reward those staff who are in above-entry-level positions at the retail, we have also budgeted funds to increase their compensation as well so that they are not left out as entry-level wages rise. Unfortunately, keeping our business financially sustainable and our prices competitive means that we need to control labor costs. In order to achieve that, we are working to transition more staff into full-time positions and to offer health and dental insurance as well as paid time off for those staff working 30 hours or more each week. The trade-off is that we will no longer offer these particular benefits to staff working less than 30 hours, a change that will lower our labor and insurance costs while ensuring that most of our staff can maintain coverage.
However, all staff, including part-timers, will continue to receive many other benefits, including an employee purchase discount, access to a 401(k) match, profit share, a longevity award, bereavement pay, and the ability to participate in the staff wellness program. We want to make this a gradual transition to allow for all staff to make arrangements necessary to their lifestyle. To that end, the change in benefits will not go into effect until July 2, 2018 for current staff, and during that time part-time staff will have the opportunity to take on additional hours if they so choose, and thereby continue to receive insurance and paid time off.
In regards to renovations and expansion, we see these as essential to ensuring that we can continue to serve our community and offer our staff a competitive compensation. In offering our Owners a better shopping experience and greater product selection, we expect to keep more Dane County grocery dollars in the local economy, serving the community and offering our staff a fair wage and benefits.
Thanks again for reaching out.
-Anya Firszt, General Manager
HOT BAR FOOD FOR SENSITIVE EATERS
Q: Do you have any items on the hot bar/cooked area that are available for sensitive people and if not can you try to maybe have at least one at all times? Something that is all of these things: organic or beyond organic, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, and if meat based then like grass fed? Allergies suck but maybe there could always be like one option available.
A: Thanks for writing into us with your comment about providing more dishes on our hot bars that accommodate those who are living with many food sensitivities. My mother-in-law has a similar set of food requirements to those that you detailed out, so I am personally familiar with preparing food to meet that need.
We do our best to always have some items that are vegan and prepared without gluten or nuts on our hot bars at all locations. It is challenging to address the specific needs that you spell out in your comment—often the vegan and gluten-free dishes rely on things you cannot eat to create a wide appeal to those audiences. We also source primarily organic produce with the exception of some canned items, but our composed dishes are not 100% organic because we select other ingredients based on cost and locality in addition to quality. We are also not an organic certified facility. We really strive to meet as many needs and diets as we are able with our prepared foods, unfortunately, we simply cannot meet them all or meet them all the time. We perform regular audits of our selections and make changes seasonally. While I can’t make a guarantee, I will definitely keep your feedback in mind as we look at future product development.
Thanks for your patience in awaiting my response.
-Patrick Schroeder, Prepared Foods Category Manager
POST OFFICE ANNEX
Q: Hi! I recall when Willy North was opening, you had looked into becoming some sort of a US Post Office annex. The timing wasn’t going to work out for the store opening, but I am curious to know if that’s something you’re still thinking about doing. I think it would be a great service to have in the neighborhood! And, while I’m here, I just want to take a moment to tell you how much we love Willy North! We live just a few blocks away so we are *very* frequent visitors to the coop for groceries, supplies, the hot bar, and the salad bar. And maybe most of all, the draft Kombucha! Your people and products are wonderful. All the best,
A: Thanks for circling back on this, and I’m so glad to hear that you are enjoying Willy North too! Last we had heard from the US Postal Service in October of 2016, they had put a moratorium on new contracts for postal units and so it was completely out of our hands. I just checked with them again and the moratorium is still in place. I will probably check in again in about a year. I can report that we do sell stamps, and shoppers can purchase them at the Customer Service desk. Please let me know if there is anything else we may do for you!
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
KINDNESS IS EVERYTHING
Q: I want to offer another perspective on “kindness is everything yard signs.” Wikipedia defines nonpartisan as: ....a lack of bias toward a political party. Black Lives Matter, No Human is Illegal, Women’s Right's Are Human Rights, are all-partisan. There is a lack of integrity to say otherwise. These issues have a strong support of the Democratic Party and is therefore does not lack bias toward a political party.
I wish you would reconsider selling signs that support a bias toward one political party’s bias. I am a conservative and enjoy the Willy Street Coop very much. In fact major illnesses were eradicated by me due to purchases of organic foods at the coop........your food saved my life. It is unfortunate politics become a part of it of its environment. Is there no place we can escape the very divisive messages by these organizations just mentioned above? I believe “quality food” should be your emphasis . There is no divisiveness in healthy eating for all political parties and all cultures. It is a unifying entity.
A: I received your feedback about the Kindness Is Everything yard signs and stickers from our Board President Holly Fearing, thank you so much for sending it. We define partisan as using Co-op spaces, funds, and time to endorse political parties and/or candidates for political office. The words on these signs and stickers do not meet our criteria of partisan, as these slogans were not created by or for specific political parties and are not an endorsement of any particular party or politician. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, the supplier of these products, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity that is also, by law, non-partisan. We chose to sell these signs on their behalf because their message is in alignment with the Cooperative Principles to be open to all without discrimination, and to support the sustainable development of our community. Part of being open to all and fostering sustainable community development is acknowledging and lifting marginalized voices. Grocers are not exempt: there are divides and barriers that exist in the food system for women, immigrants, and people of color (as examples of who you specifically mentioned) that deserve to be heard and addressed. The Co-op was started by people who chose a business model designed for having a voice. While we are not partisan, we do sell products and take actions to meet our ends that can sometimes be construed as political, and we have done so throughout our time as a cooperative.
We do not seek to sell yard signs or other political action items, we sell them upon specific request. We also do not make money from these items, funds are always passed on to a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity. All asks to sell these types of products are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. As always, purchase of, or support for, any of the products we carry are always optional for all of our customers. I’m glad to hear that some of the products we sell have been of benefit to you and we appreciate being able to meet your needs and the needs of others. Please let us know if there is anything else we may do for you.
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: Would the co-op ever consider accepting American Express cards? I realize that the transaction cost of using American Express may be slightly higher for the co-op (and ultimately customers) than Visa or Master Card. At the same time, however, choosing to shop at the co-op instead of a grocery store that accepts American Express results in an additional cost to me of at least 6-8% return on my purchases in frequent flyer miles. I’m sure that I’m not the only owner/customer in this situation.
A: Hello. Thank you for your inquiry about accepting American Express. We understand those who use American Express miss out on higher returns when they use a different form of payment. Unfortunately, the vendors who accept American Express are the ones who pay for that return by paying higher fees for American Express transactions. The fees American Express charges are 35-50% higher than Visa, MasterCard or Discover.
We are currently working to reduce our overall operating costs to remain competitive with other grocers so at this time we are not considering accepting American Express. If American Express would lower their fees to be closer to the fees charged by Visa/MasterCard/Discover then we would consider adding them as a tender.
Thanks again for your inquiry.
-Paige Wickline, Finance Director
ELECTRONIC CUSTOMER COMMENTS
Q: Request that customer comments & Responses be done electronically and online. Such a valuable resource & service! Yet we are not having it be accessible, not searchable, & not quantifiable so that we can learn over time & leverage this resource.
A: Thanks for the suggestion. We offer both paper and online options to submit comments, and when we have email records for the customer, we do respond that way. We chose to keep the option for people to write paper comments in addition to contacting us online because that is most accessible to people who are at the store, and to people who are not as interested in using computers to communicate as others. We log all the comments internally and we do track comment types, trends, and departments receiving comments for staff to use as a development tool. While we do reserve the right to publish any comment, we choose not to keep a public record of the comments for various privacy reasons: some comments are very personal with regard to specific nutrition and wellness interests, some comments are addressed to (or are about) specific staff, and some even discuss other customers. Even if we put labor into screening for removing names, we suspect some customers would be uncomfortable knowing that all comments would be published for public view, and this may lead to some customer concerns not being raised or addressed. Many of the comments are also very specific to individuals and are time-sensitive, like “do you have ‘X’ in stock currently,” and “I’d like to special order X.” These comments would not necessarily be useful to other customers, and the answers may be subject to change based on seasonality, availability or simply the passing of time.
We are looking into creating a standard FAQ page when we redo our website over the coming year, and feedback from customer comments would definitely influence what appears there. In the meantime, you can always go to the binders at the Owner Resources Areas of each store to see what people ask about on paper at each location, we put the vast majority of paper comments there. You can also find the comments we publish in the Reader in our archives at www.willystreet.coop/reader.
Please let us know if there is anything else we may do for you.
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director