Q: Guys! Oh boy! I sure do love you and I sure do love organics (with a couple of degrees to prove it!)... but your reader is putting out some false information! It breaks my heart that you wouldn’t double checkthis before print, but there is a graphic explaining the difference between organic and conventional. Organic: “Grown without pesticides...” Well, that just isn’t true! I always thought y’all were a credible source, but I guess it goes to show: FACT CHECK everything from everyone. Better luck next time, guys!
A: Thanks for catching our error. In an attempt to have very brief explanations of these definitions, this one ended up being inaccurate. We will include include this as a Customer Comment in the next issue of the newsletter and update future instances to say “Organically Grown: Grown without the use of most conventional pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or genetically modified organisms.”
Have a nice weekend! -Brendon Smith, Drector of Communications
CASH V. CREDIT
Q: I spoke recently to a clerk in the checkout line at Willy Street East. I asked for his estimate of the percentage of co-op customers who used either a credit or debit card. He thought that 50% paid by a card, the balance by cash.
There are two Madison shops in the nature of delicatessens—well established long-operating businesses. When one makes a purchase there, one is asked, “Cash or card?” If one pays by cash, there is an immediate 6% discount from the marked price! In these shops, persons paying in cash are relieved of that markup made to cover credit/debit card service charges levied by card companies.
It seems to me that all retail businesses who mark up to cover credit/debit card costs should offer a discount for cash purchases. Otherwise, in effect, cash customers pay a higher price than “card” purchasers.
A: Thank you for your thoughtful letter expressing your concerns about credit card fees along with your suggestion to offer a discount for customers who pay cash at Willy Street Co-op. We welcome your observations, concerns and suggestions!
We continually review our costs along with how we do business with the goal of continuing to meet the needs of our Owners while running an efficient grocery Co-op. There are costs associated with all transactions that we process at the register and it may surprise you to know the most cost-efficient payment type for us is payment with a debit card. This is because we are a mid-sized business with a high volume of transactions.
Currently we choose not to offer a discount by how someone pays us because those with the greatest financial need for a discount such as those who pay for their food with a government-issued EBT card don’t have the ability to use cash for their EBT benefits.
We do offer discounts based on financial need through our Access Discount Program that offers eligible Owners a 10% discount on purchases.
Thank you again for sharing your concerns. -Paige Wickline, Director of Finance
Q: Hi! We have been looking for vegan ravioli as pre-made ravioli was one of the things that can be easily made when both of us are working. Just add a salad and we have a meal! I just found out there is at least one out there, made by Kite Hill. Also we love fresh made pastas but most of them have eggs in them. Are there ones we can use? As always we really appreciate the co-op and thanks for all that you do!
A: Hope you all are having a great day!! We do carry some Kite Hill products, but their ravioli is not available to us unfortunately. Rising Moon Organics offers some frozen vegan ravioli that we carry: a Butternut Squash (at East, North, and West), a Garlic & Roasted Veggie (at East, North, and West), and a Spinach Florentine (at West). They make some really tasty products!! Have a wonderful week!! -Dean Kallas, Purchasing Director–Grocery
Q: I have a quick question that I cannot seem to find the answer to. How do you decide which products/brands get to be featured in coupons and flyers associated with your store? If I had a product you sell, for instance, how would I go about having it be included as a feature? Are there guidelines and/or fees associated with this sort of promotion? I look forward to your timely response.
A: Thanks for your email! The answer to your question varies a bit by department, but generally we decide on our promotions based on price discounts that we are able to negotiate with our vendors and what we think our Owners will want to purchase.
Some of our promotions (mainly the local and smaller vendors in Grocery and Wellness) we negotiate directly with the vendors. Our category managers work with vendors to negotiate pricing that is sustainable for the vendor, but also offers the customer a price break and helps them gain more visibility for their brand. We often also reduce our profit margin on these items in order to share the burden with the vendor.
Some promotions (mainly our Co+op Deals promotions) are negotiated on our behalf by National Co-op Grocers (NCG), which is essentially a co-op of grocery co-ops. NCG works to pool the buying power of 200+ co-ops across the country and get the best possible deals from large national and regional manufacturers.
In the Produce departments, our promotions are based mainly on what is in season at any given time. We pick things that are available at a lower price because there is a good supply in the marketplace. Again, we reduce our profit margins as well in order to get the best possible price to our Owners.
I hope that helps answer your question—as you can see, it’s a bit complicated and varies quite a bit by promotion and by department. Let me know if you have any further questions! Best, Megan Minnick, Director of Purchasing
Milk and “milk”
Q: The Willy Street Co-op grocery manager Dean Kallas was cited in the 12/4/16 Wisconsin State Journal discussing the increased sales of vegetable-based “milk” displacing cow’s milk. He attributed this to allergies and preferences of vegetarians, vegans, and others who do not wish to drink cow’s milk. While I appreciate that you must try to be profitable, I hope that Willy Street Co-op will at least alert its customers to the nutritional dangers of substituting vegetable-based “milk” for cow’s milk. This is especially important for children.
I have attached an 11/15/16 article from the NY Times addressing the problem. The article notes that cow’s milk contains high levels of protein, calcium, and other nutrients, while almond, soy, cashew, and coconut products “pale in comparison.” The article cites the recommendation of nutrition researchers that “young children drink cow’s milk unless there is a medical reason they cannot.” Perhaps you could post the article near the dairy section.
I expect Willy Street Co-op to be concerned about the health of its members. Your FY 2016 Annual Report brags about locally sourced foods, food donations, and lower levels of waste. Perhaps next year you can also brag about nutrition education. Very truly yours.
A: Thanks for writing with your concerns about non-dairy milks.
As a consumer owned co-operative, we exist to serve our owners, and the products we offer are based on their shopping preferences.
As Dean alluded to in the Wisconsin State Journal article you reference, we have found in recent years that some of our Owners are increasingly opting to purchase plant-based milks instead of dairy-based milks. This is for a variety of reasons, including allergies and peopleadopting vegan diets for ethical or health reasons.
I think there is also a significant number of Co-op Owners who felt that they were unable to purchase any type of milk in the past, and now that there are more non-dairy milks on the market, they are finding new options that are available to them.
Many of these folks are also starting to gravitate toward other, plant based sources of protein and other vital nutrients. This is another huge trend in the food industry that is happening in tandem with the increase in popularity of non-dairy milks and other non-dairy foods.
I should note that, though more folks are now choosing to purchase non-dairy milk, we still sell plenty of traditional dairy products, and we have plenty of owners who much prefer dairy for many of the reasons you noted.
Given the diversity of our Ownership and their dietary preferences, we have found it best to focus our educational efforts to helping people find the nutritional balance that is right for them, rather than urging people to choose one type of food or one dietary lifestyle over another.
For example, we would focus more on how to support someone who has chosen a vegan lifestyle to get all of the nutrition they need, rather than urging them to drink cow’s milk specifically, or warning them about the dangers of plant based milks.
I hope this helps give some background on our approach to these types of issues. Please let me know if there are any other questions I can answer for you. Best Regards, Megan Minnick, Director of Purchasing
greenbush bakery products
Q: Hello, yesterday I was at Willy St North and noticed Greenbush Bakery apple fritters and other products available. It gave me the idea to return today, and pick up a fresh apple fritter for my family to share. (Note, I am not interested in a day-old one.) Saturday/Sundays are the only days we have time to get something fresh and enjoy a leisurely breakfast, so you can imagine my disappointment when there were none there Saturday morning. We were SO looking forward to this, that I decided to drive all the way downtown to the Greenbush Bakery on Regent Street and pick it up there. Well, when I arrived, I was pretty surprised to see the line coming all the way out the door. I’d come that far, so I decided to wait in line. By the time I got up to the front, the clerk informs me: “We’re out of those right now.” GREAT. Just fabulous. Please. Just get a truckload of those things on Saturday and Sundays. Please?
A: Thank you for your comment. I am sorry you were disappointed in your search for an Apple Fritter. Greenbush bakery products are fabulous and popular. Currently we are only able to receive three deliveries per week (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) from them. I wish we could get fresh, daily deliveries, but, unfortunately, that is not an option. However, Greenbush Bakery is in the process of scaling up their production, so, hopefully we will be able to receive larger and more frequent deliveries in the near future. In the meantime, you could always call ahead to Willy North 608-709-5445 and check on the availability. If we have what you are looking for we will happily set it aside for you so you can pick it up at your convenience.
Thank you again for your comment. Sincerely, Jeff Dempsey, Assistant Store Manager—North
Pantries of plenty
Q: I finally got used to your concept of Pantries of Plenty point-of-purchase plastic tags, when they went away. Can you have them available year-round? I would rather give cash for what pantries decide they need, than guess by purchasing actual groceries myself for them.
A: Thanks for writing! I’m so glad to hear you participated in our seasonal Pantries of Plenty program to support our six neighborhood food pantries. The program was designed with the pantries to be seasonal, to help the pantries get fresh items during the winter season, when those items are harder to acquire. The program is also being revised. While we will still offer a seasonal program to provide additional support to our neighborhood food pantries, we are preparing to launch a new program for customers to contribute to addressing food security year-round. We expect to announce the new program in March and start the program in April.
If you are interested in contributing to the pantries year round, the ones that are serviced by North, Bread of Life and The River Food Pantry, both take donations directly on their websites. You may also be able to set up regular payment donations with them directly as well.
Please let us know if we may assist you further! -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services
Q: Healthy food, human treatment of animals, organic farmers, a healthy environment… these are some of the reasons I joined the Co-op. However, by lowering your standards at your Northside Store, you are offering some unhealthy food choices, which are not local, organic, natural foods. Thus, you are now contributing to inhumane treatment of animals. Plus, you are undermining organic farmers. Furthermore, you are supporting detrimental environmental practices.
When approached by the Northside Planning Council and various others to lower your standards, you had a marvelous opportunity to become a leader in promoting all the positive things I thought you represented. Instead you chose another path.
Perhaps you could have asked owners to CHIP to defray the cost of food for qualified residents. Also, if we had been asked to contribute to a fund that would pay for a Co-op representative to lobby for healthy and affordable food, you would have kept your moral compass and actually helped people. I know I would have been enthusiastic about CHIPPING and donating money to a special fund to help my struggling neighbors. They deserve the best, too! There has to be a better way of running the store than what’s presently being done at the Northside Store.
So in protest, I am cancelling my ownership in the Co-op. In good conscience, I can no longer be an Owner in a Co-op that does not support all the reasons I joined and loved Willy Street Co-op.
Our Food and Product Selection Philosophy asks that we both strive to source products that are local, natural, organic, sustainable, humane, and fairly traded, while also providing fairly priced products to support accessibility for all in our community. Doing both of these things is a balancing act, and that is nowhere more apparent than in our northside store. Megan Minnick, our Director of Purchasing, wrote about this challenge in her July 2016 newsletter article “Dichotomies of the Food System.”
We do not see providing a variety of products that meet a variety of needs, be it health, budget, or cultural, as lowering our standards. Our job as a cooperative is to serve our Owners, all Owners, the products they desire in our store. Basedon Owner request, we have been providing conventional foods alongside local, natural and organic choices for many, many years. The product mix at North was, and is still being, determined almost exclusively by the suggestions and feedback we have received fromcustomers who shop there. Based on these requests, we have brought in a large amount of conventional foods that we don’t carry at our other stores. We are also committed to providing the WIC program at our North location for families with low income, and State regulations require us to carry very specific conventional items to participate in that program. While we are expanding to meet the needs and requests of a larger Owner population, we still remain committed to offering the same local, organic and natural choices we are known for, and continue to look for the best prices that we can possibly pass on to the consumer for them.
With regard to requesting donations for qualified residents, we did not have a program like that in place at the time we were planning for North and the timeframe to create such a program for the opening was too short with the number of other tasks involved with opening a new store. In the meantime, we continued to offer our 10% Access Discount Program, which is supported annually by our sales (thanks to the support of our customers and Owners), we received a $40,000 grant from the City through the USDA to pilot offering Double Dollars to customers using EBT in our stores in partnership with local farmers’ markets, and we worked with Northside Planning Council to accept donations from customers to provide Ownerships to those who met their criteria for low income. We are currently in discussions with nonprofit and public partners to create an in-store donation program like you describe, and we plan to roll out that program in late spring/early summer at the very latest. As the Community CHIP program supports Community Shares of Wisconsin, which also helps many people in the community meet their needs and deserves our continued support, rolling donations to our customers into that program was not possible. If you are still interested in remaining an Owner, we hope you will consider participating in the new program we are creating to further support our customers with low income.
Please let me know if you have further questions. Thank you for sharing your feedback and for being a part of our cooperative all these years. -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services
organic local fruits
Q: Hi, I just wanted to make a comment about your selection that you offer for organic, local fruits. I’m aware that it’s winter now so that affects the variety, but in the other seasons I would like to make a recommendation that maybe you can make more of a wider selection available? I notice that most things especially berries are only coming from big companies like dole and I’m kind of curious if there are any smaller more local options that you can look into that might offer a more “beyond organic” quality than something like dole who is probably only in it for the money and probably using questionable growing methods that might not actually be... organic. It seems like you guys do a better job with vegetables however I’d always love to see more local varieties if you ever get a chance. (you are definitely better than whole foods with this one.) thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!
A: You are right, locally sourced organic fruit is a challenge for us!
We have relationships with several orchards that supply us with strawberries, apples, peaches, pears, concord grapes, and a few other fruits, but given the brief window of seasonal availability for most of these items, we have to bring in organic options from elsewhere for the vast majority of the year.
Some of these local options are certified organic, and some aren’t. Local organic apples, for instance are very hard to come by. Because of our humid summer climate, organic Wisconsin apple growers aren’t able to grow the blemish-free fruits that orchards in the more arid regions of the Pacific Northwest can grow; and since the vast majority of consumers prefer fruit that’s blemish-free, the vast majority of the Wisconsin apple growers use some non-organic inputs in order to make sure their fruit is marketable.
Each season varies a bit, but you can generally find locally sourced strawberries on our shelves in late June/early July, peaches from August through September, apples and pears from September through December, and Concord grapes and aronia berries in October and early November.
If you’re interested in eating more local fruit, my best suggestion would be to look into preserving local fruit by either canning or freezing.
I hope that’s helpful! Best, Megan Minnick, Director of Purchasing
Cheese and comments
Q: Dear Willy, two quick things: 1) could you please handle more organic cheese at Willy North. There are so many organic cheese companies out there and you only handle Organic valley. We don’t need so many “fancy” yuppy types of cheese that might taste good but don’t have the ethics behind their products that Willy Co-op members have long held dear. If it’s not organic then the environment was sprayed with chemicals to grow the crop to feed the cow. --- as a side note: Organic Valley does sell 1lb chunks of cheese for a cheaper per pound price (it’s at Jenifer St Mkt for around $7.90 a pound)... this would be welcome at Willy. 2) Some of us ARE members (myself included), but want to share our thoughts anonymously with our Co-op. Not because we have mean comments, but because we are shy. Why do we have to give our member number if it’s not relevant to our inquiry?
A: Thanks for writing. I have logged your product request for our Purchasing Department’s review and consideration and I’ve also let them know about the pricing you found on Organic Valley cheese elsewhere. If more organic cheeses are available to us and we think will be popular with our Owners, we’ll get them on our shelves and let you know.
Regarding your comments about the ethics around organic cheese production, it’s true, certifying organic can be one way to signal a producer’s commitments, though it is not the only indicator of practices, quality or ethic. You might find it interesting that we sell hundreds varieties of cheese Co-op wide, about 80% of it is from Wisconsin, and most of it is not organic. One of the big reasons for this is that we support local farmers and most of the cheese producers we work with are very, very small. Dairy farms that are certified organic require farmers to take cows who fall ill and need certain types of care out of production for an entire year before their milk can be considered organic again. This, and other aspects of organic certification and maintenance may make certifying cost prohibitive for small producers regardless of their practices. To find out how a small farmer grows their feed, it may be better to ask the producer directly or check out their website than to rely on whether or not they carry a certification.
We ask for your name and Owner number because when you provide us feedback, we want to give you a personalized answer, and it’s much easier for us to dialogue if we ask for your information. Your Owner number helps us make sure that we have your correct contact information, which is really helpful if a customer’s handwriting is not as easy to read, or if the customer makes a typo when providing their contact information. You are essentially giving us the tools to make sure we know who to contact with a response or with questions. Providing your Owner number also signals to us that you have a stake in our business. It’s helpful to us to know that our Owners are trying to communicate with us and that we should keep in mind any Owner benefits that may come into play when we respond. I was unable to find your Owner record with only your first name and the email that you provided.
Please let me know if I may assist you further! -Kirsten Moore, Director of Cooperative Services
Q: Hi there - I recently read an excellent article about vertical farming, and have done a little research to see what’s going on with more sustainable farming practices in our area. I found that Pick n Save carries greens from Bright Farms. While I have issues with their packaging, I like the product, and would love to support both their farming practices and the coop. Have you all considered carrying this brand, or other more sustainably-farmed greens? I’m especially curious to know if you can investigate partnering with other local grocery stores to support a greenhouse in the Madison area. Here’s a link to more information: http://brightfarms.com/s/#!/retail_partners/benefits I love the idea of buying locally- and efficiently-grown greens, especially in bulk (rather than in annoying plastic containers!) I look forward to hearing back from you. Thanks for considering!
A: Thanks for writing! I had not heard of Bright Farms, so thanks for sharing the link. Unfortunately we don’t currently have access to their products. It looks to me like they have an exclusive contract with the Roundy’s (a subsidiary of Kroger) owned stores in Illinois and Wisconsin. This includes Pick n Save, Marianos, and Metro Market. We do offer a locally grown aquaponic lettuce in all of our stores from KP Simply Fresh in North Freedom Wisconsin. It uses aquaponic methods, but is definitely on the level of sustainability that you are looking for. It’s a really great product! One word of caution regarding locally grown produce in heated greenhouses: Unless they are heated using sustainable energy, it can be a very tough call to say if greenhouses are actually more environmentally sustainable than produce grown in warm climates like California or Mexico and then shipped here via semi. Food grown in California and Mexico does not need additional heat or light during production, and because semi trucks carry so much food in one load, they can actually be more efficient than you may think. The fossil fuel requirements of large climate controlled greenhouses can be immense, sometimes much more than the fossil fuels that go into trucking produce long distances. You may be interested to read this article that I wrote for the Co-op Reader a few years ago. I hope this helps answer your questions. Feel free to contact me if you have any more ideas about how we can make our produce departments more sustainable!
Best Regards, Megan Minnick
Q In relation to the member who posted about Vegans at Willy North. I too am a vegan and would appreciate more opportunities for “fast” food at the hot bar. I have had the same experience as the writer. My husband this year has been going vegan (plant-strong is the term now) and it would help him to scoot over from work to grab something to eat too.
I understand you have to appeal to everyone on the North Side and most are probably meat eaters, but give peas a chance. :)
Thanks. Love the store.
A: Thank you for your response to the Customer Comment that was posted in our February issue of The Reader. I appreciate you echoing those sentiments. This reinforces the need to make sure that we are always well-stocked on vegan options in our Deli Department. As I mentioned in the published response, we do aim to have at least half of our Hot Bar dishes be vegan or vegetarian on a daily basis. If there are specific things you are looking for, please let us know, and we will try our best to make them available. You might be pleased to know that we recently began offering a Vegan Breakfast Sandwich (Soy Sausage and Daiya on an English Muffin). Breakfast sandwiches are available everyday from 7:30am to 11:00am, or while supplies last. Also, we have been working on increasing the amount of in-house production that is done at North. As we scale that up, there will be increased variety in what we have to offer. A large portion of that in-house production will be vegan options. Thank you again for your comment and thank you for supporting your Willy Street Co-Op!
Assistant Store Manager