Q: Banana Selection Thank you! For selling bananas that you are able to eat within a reasonable amount of time from purchase. I have no earthly idea of the complexity involved with timing produce sales. So I am wildly impressed with your selection. This store sells bananas that you are able to eat the day of purchase in winter, which astonishes me. Other grocers pass off lime green bananas that won't be ripe three weeks from purchasing.
A: Thanks so much for your praise of the bananas offered at Willy North. You are correct that getting sensitive fruits like bananas on our shelves at just the right stage of ripeness is not an easy task. It requires careful attention—they are picked on farms in Central America, transported to a port, shipped via barge to the US East Coast, put on a semi, driven to a distribution warehouse in the upper Midwest, put on another semi, and then finally received in our stores. Though we don't get it right 100% of the time, I'd say our wholesale partners as well as our staff do a great job, and I'm happy that you agree!
I'm ccing the North Produce Manager, Brandy on this email. She and her team are in large part the ones who deserve this praise! Best, Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
Website product listings
Q: I'm trying to find products on the website, and I don't see them any more. I've noticed this for a while, but was hoping they'd come back. I was reminded today because I'd like to refer someone to a product that we purchase there by sending them a link to it. Were they removed, or am I just not looking in the right place? If they were removed, when will they be returning? If they won't be returning, can you please share the reason?
A: Thanks for contacting us with your question. You are right—the products listings have been removed from the website. We will have products listed on our e-commerce site when it launches in the spring. We had hoped to roll out the new website and the e-commerce site at the same time, or at least much closer together than it turned out, but the e-commerce launch has been moved back by the developer. We looked into a stopgap option to temporarily preserve our product listing onIine, but the price quote was far too high for an interface that should only be in use for a few months (assuming there's not a further delay in the launch of the e-commerce site). I apologize for the inconvenience. I would be happy to send you an email when the e-commerce site launches if you are interested! I'd also be happy to track down product information for the product you were looking for if you can describe it. -Brendon Smith, Communications Director
Blinded by the light
Q: The led lights in the store are too bright. But moreover, the new message board led lights just about blinded me last evening around 5 pm, Dec. 26.
A: Thank you so much for sending your feedback about the LED lights through out the store. There is no way for us to turn the lights down but there may be areas of the store where the lighting can be pointed better to avoid such bright lights at eye level. I will work with my facilities manager to see what we can do.
The new marquee sign is meant to be seen from quite a ways away so it is very bright. I will look into whether or not there is anyway to dim it a bit.
Thank you again for sending your feedback our way. I hope you have a lovely week. -Lindsey Hardy, Store Director–West
PB Chocolate Chip
Q: I bought Willy Street peanut butter chocolate chip cookies (2nd time, I believe). But they don't taste much like peanut butter. I also gave one to my BF to test, he said the same thing. I suggest adding more peanut butter or change the name.
A: Thanks for your comment regarding our Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.
It's a long name, eh? I totally hear you on the request to have them taste more like peanut butter. In fact, the only reason "peanut butter" is in the name is due to a customer comment from a few years ago requesting it to be called out more clearly (rather than just in the ingredients) to avoid consumption by someone with peanut allergies. The peanut butter was just a "binder" ingredient, largely, not a primary one.
Until we get a better labeling system for calling out allergens, I think I'll play it safe and keep the PB in the name. I appreciate your comment, however. -Patrick Schroeder, Prepared Foods Category Manager
Wrapped in plastic
Q: Message: I was so bummed to see the photo on page 11 of the current Reader of a head of organic cauliflower wrapped in plastic. As our oceans are choking on plastic, the LAST thing that needs to be wrapped is fresh produce. I know it's commonplace in many supermarkets; I'm working on a Greenpeace project to try to end it. But the Coop? Very disheartening.
If you're doing it because cauliflower is not as easy as some other produce to stick the label on, PLEASE: TRY! It's not worth killing our planet!
A: Thanks for writing with your concern about plastic-wrapped cauliflower. Unfortunately, unless it is locally grown (which it is quite often in the summertime), we don't have a choice as to how our cauliflower comes to us. The industry standard is to wrap it in plastic, and when we purchase it that's how it comes. I wish it were different, as I agree, the plastic packaging of some vegetables seems like overkill.
There are some veggies that have two standards—plastic-wrapped and not, and we always choose the plastic-free option when we can (the industry calls this "naked" packaging). Items like celery and broccoli are commonly packaged in plastic, but we choose to purchase them "naked," for the reasons you call out.
I hope this is helpful. We'll continue to do all we can to eliminate our plastic usage in the Produce department! Best, Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
Jumping to judgment
Q: A little over a year ago, my wife and I went shopping at the co-op on a fine spring morning. We legally parked in a handicap stall, did our shopping, and returned to our car. When I approached the driver’s side door I was met by a rather stout and dour, middle-aged women with her arms firmly folded and a steely and unwavering glare face on her face full of judgment. Assuming that she thought we were not in need of such parking, I asked if I could help her. She turned and walked away in a bit of a huff.
Today, I would do things differently. I would say different words. But, I can’t. My wife died a couple of months later of the stage four pancreatic cancer she had been battling that day, and for the months previous. No doubt, to the judgmental woman we encountered that day at the co-op my wife appeared healthy, if very thin, as she returned to the car smiling and laughing. We made use of the handicap stall because my dear wife would easily get out of breath and she suffered from the constant pain that accompanies such a dreadful disease.
We, here on the east side of Madison, are so smart and so eager to act upon perceived injustices. As the one-year anniversary of my wife’s death approaches, I ask that we all pause to think before jumping to such easy judgment. That person in the handicap stall that appears so healthy to you may be bearing a heavier burden that your eyes can tell.
A: On behalf of the Co-op and personally, I express my deepest sympathies to you for the loss of your wife, and I am thankful to you for opening your heart and sharing your story. It’s true, human nature can lean towards snap judgments, and I think it’s safe to say that all of us would benefit from time to time in taking a step back and considering what we might not know or see before forming an opinion of one another and our actions. I’m so sorry to hear that you and your wife were met in our parking lot using the disabled parking stall for its intended purpose with anything other than open arms. I don’t know if the person you described was an employee, a customer, or someone passing through the lot, but in any case, you and your wife deserved better. There are many people out there coping with hidden struggles, and I wish neither your wife, nor anyone else would ever have to experience them. You’re right, it would certainly be easier to cope with our hidden struggles if we were all a little kinder to each other and maybe more mindful of our actions and opinions. Thank you for your courage in sharing this reminder with your fellow cooperators and community. I wish you well in the New Year and look forward to seeing you at the Co-op soon. Take care. -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Electric car charging stalls
Q: Why don’t you move these stalls to the far end of the parking lot? Taking up 2 stalls close to the entrance for this purpose is annoying. I’m sure there are more older customers as well as customers with infants and children than there are people looking to charge their cars. These customers deserve the convenience these stalls provide. The placement of the charging stalls is irrelevant to the entrance location. I’m not sure why the coop has to provide this service at all. Thank you.
A; Thanks for the suggestion. I am not sure which store location you are referencing specifically, but the location of Madison Gas & Electric’s transformer is the factor deciding where the spots are located. Moving the spaces or adding an additional transformer is currently cost prohibitive. That said, anyone can park at the electric charging stations! Due to space limitations in the lots, we do not reserve those spaces solely for electric cars. The only spots that have parking restrictions are the spots for those with disabilities. We provide the charging stations due to customer request. Please let us know if you have other questions, or if there is a specific location you would like to contact you regarding the parking. Have a happy New Year! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: Message: Please please PLEASE do not change the recipe for the gluten-free monkey muffin! I have been a coop owner since the turn of the century, and the GF monkey muffin is my favorite product you ever offered. I suffer from hypoglycemia and nothing raises my blood sugar like that butter cream frosting! I removed gluten from the diet recently after hearing about the dangers of wheat, and I love having this tasty snack available to me every day! I read a letter in the reader telling you to change the recipe, but I URGE you to leave it as is!
Anxiously waiting your assurance that the muffin will remain, otherwise, PLEASE warn me if I need to start stockpiling monkey muffins in my basement freezer, and please prepare a large special order of monkey muffins before the recipe is lost forever!
A: Have no fear—there are no planned changes to the Monkey Muffin. At most, I might consider a name change! To be honest, though, the comment published in the latest Reader is the only one I can recall that complained about this particular issue.
That being said, I want to assure you, no formulation changes are pending for your Monkey Muffin! -Patrick Schroeder, Prepared Foods Category Manager
Product mix problems
Q: It's difficult to determine where I typically shop—either West or East, occasionally North. But this concern is about the West store and my general commentary on how WSGC has changed. First congratulations on the great numbers at the end of the fiscal year. I worked at the co-op many years ago when we were always in the red. It's wonderful to see WSGC so successful and so long-standing in the community. But I want to express that I no longer trust the co-op any more than I do Metcalf's or Hy-Vee, etc. A few weeks ago I was looking for dried fruits other than raisins. I found papaya bits from some company calling itself "Creative" or some such euphemism. The papaya contained both yellow and red dye and when I went to the customer service area to registered my complaint the employee looked at me like I was crazy, didn't say a word and handed me a comment form. Not the kind of interaction I'm used to having at the West Store. NOT the kind of engagement employees ought to have with customer/members and NOT the kind of product WSCG should be selling. In addition over the years the Co-op has become much more like Sentry or Woodman's -- very few locally sourced products e.g. packaged dried cranberries from Vermont (an excellent product, but nevertheless with a large carbon footprint because of shipping). I rarely see locally sourced fresh fruit and veggies anymore so again I'm buying apples from Washington, Oregon, etc. berries from Mexico even during Wisconsin growing season. It's a disappointment. I'm a loyal co-opper so won't shop anywhere else, but it is disappointing when the co-op puts out all the promotional info saying it supports local farmers and producers and yet I rarely can buy local food. In addition, no one has ever responded to the written comment form I filled out at the West store, yet it requested a phone and email, which I provided.
A: I’m sorry to hear that you did not receive a response to your comment from November 19. During the holidays, it can sometimes take awhile to sort through comments and send them to the appropriate departments and then respond. As you can see, this comment took awhile to receive a response as well. I do apologize for the delay.
I am also sorry that someone handed you a comment form in place of providing you with direct and personal customer service. It is entirely possible that someone working that day in Grocery could have provided some information about the dried papayas for you. You are correct, that’s not the kind of service engagement we expect with our customers, and we are following up with staff about that. With regard to the product, I checked in with our Grocery Category Manager Dean Kallas, who said that the $3.49 10-ounce package of Creative Snacks dried papaya was a less expensive offering we brought in to serve that need by request. We also sell Mavuno Harvest’s directly traded organic dried papaya for the same price ($3.49) in a two-ounce package, which would be free from dyes. The dried cranberries come to us on a delivery with many products from a vendor with whom we already have a working relationship. We do carry as much locally grown produce as we possibly can, and you can follow how many items we have currently by checking out the signs in the Produce departments. Our Purchasing Director Megan Minnick noted that this past year yielded an unprecedentedly bad growing season. Though we had many farmers plant to fulfill need, some important crops were lost or significantly damaged due to weather, and this may explain why you may have felt we provided less than you expect. If you have specific questions about why we do or do not have certain local items when they are in season, please do not hesitate to ask someone in the Produce department.
Other stores in town may carry similar products to us, that is very much the truth, and being able to carry products that keep us competitive with these other stores helps keep our cooperative viable by remaining in business and providing more of a one-stop shopping experience for those Owners and customers that would prefer that convenience due to time, budget, transportation or other personal needs. We also still carry more local products overall than our competitors; and as we are not owned by private stockholders and we headquartered locally, we put much more money back into the community due to supporting more local suppliers, being a 100% locally employed business, and contributing to local causes. You can see the difference we make in this past fiscal year’s annual report, which you may have already received by mail or email and is now posted to our website. We do hope to see you in the stores again soon, and that we will be able to provide you with a better customer service experience moving forward. Hope your New Year is off to a great start! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: Thank you for rotating and offering new low/no sodium products at Willy North. I noticed this a few weeks after submitting my annual survey, when I submitted this idea.
I would submit that you could sell more low/no sodium products with simple promotions (e.g., low sodium product sign in light blue). The idea being similar to “gluten-free” product awareness that you do well.
Switching to a lower sodium diet was one of my wisest life decisions. I did this seven years ago when my mother was diagnosed with chronic heart failure. As her primary caregiver, it was the least I could do for her.
Customer and staff education is key. When I chat with your staff, most don’t understand the benefits of watching your sodium intake. My vitals are the best they’ve been! My doctor and I attribute this mostly to watching my sodium intake.
Know that I was an early supporter of Willy North, and will continue to shop there even though I’ve moved to southeast Madison. Your staff there and organization are a true gem!
Please extend my kudos to all! I read too much unnecessary negative feedback in the Reader. Carry on and build on your strengths! Peace always.
A: When it comes to special diets, we tend to shy away from heavily promoting or labeling specific products as friendly to certain personal or healthcare needs. One reason is that there are lots of dietary choices people make, and we simply do not have the space to put up signage or labels about them all. Another is safety. Producers can change their ingredients at any time with no warning to us, and, when we used to create the gluten-free list, we were auditing the ingredient labels by hand, so by the time we were able to generate a comprehensive list, not only was there room for error, but portions of it were also already out of date. We don't want someone who truly needs to avoid gluten, or sodium, or a number of other ingredients, to accidentally consume some because of an error on our part. For this reason, we advocate strongly for reading labels ourselves, it is the safest way to ensure you are truly getting what you are looking for. You're right, education is important, and I'm so happy to hear that you have found a diet plan that works best for you and that we have been able to help support your needs. We do work with a local naturopath, Katy Wallace from Human Nature LLC, to offer free nutrition lectures on a variety of topics, and we'll be sure to suggest that a discussion about sodium might be well received. If you are ever looking for a low-sodium version of something that you are not able to find in the store, please make sure to ask someone on staff! We'd be happy to see what we can find for you.
Thanks again for writing! It was really nice to hear from you, and to know that you are enjoying Willy North too. We appreciate the kind words and suggestions. Take care! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
I love the Co-op
Q: I wanted to share a quick story about why I love being a member of the Willy Street Co-op. The other night I bought a bunch of groceries and handed the cashier several coupons. I paid and headed home. About 15 minutes later I received a call from the Co-op telling me that the cashier realized after I had left that he forgot to apply two of the coupons. The caller apologized and said a gift card for about $7 would be waiting for me at the customer service desk the next time I'm in the store! I was so pleasantly surprised to receive that call. Most stores would not take the time to track a customer down nor would they have the means to do so, but since we are members, the Co-op can. Thank you for a great shopping experience!
A: We appreciate your sharing such a terrific story with us. We are happy to follow-up with our Owners and customers if we make mistakes. It's important that you get the value out of your Co-op experience that you deserve! Thanks for the positivity! Hope you're having a great New Year! -Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director