LOCAL VEGGIES IN WINTER
Q: Hello, I am wondering if there is a way you can get more local/ organic vegetables during the winter, for instance kale (which I think is a winter crop). and other crops that you don’t have that also grow during the winter here. i’m trying to avoid vegetables from California yet don’t have a CSA because i get my food from the coop (although maybe i should just get a csa.) but meanwhile, that’d be cool if you are able to get some local kale! and broccoli. anyway happy holidays! and thanks for being the coop
A: Hello and thanks for the question! In some warmer climates (like Central and Southern California), Kale and Broccoli can be grown year round, but unfortunately here in Wisconsin it just gets too cold. It’s true that these crops like cool temperatures, but they can’t withstand the consistent deep freeze of a Wisconsin winter. Our short days are also a limiting factor—I used to live in Northern California, and even there, given the limited daylight hours in the winter months crops would stop growing even though the temperatures were just about perfect for cruciferous crops like kale and broccoli. Some farms are able to grow a few crops (primarily spinach) in hoop-houses throughout the winter. Generally, hoop-house production is pretty small and the farms that have invested in this infrastructure sell their entire crop through winter farmers’ markets and CSAs. Selling to us at wholesale costs and quantities just doesn’t make sense for them. If you are looking for a good, consistent supply of local organic fresh greens through this winter, farmers’ markets are probably your best bet. I know there are a few winter spinach CSAs around, but they sell out quickly given the high demand. We do have a good supply of local organic sprouts through the winter, and we also carry a (non-organic) aquaponic lettuce from KP Simply Fresh. This product is grown in a heated greenhouse with added lights. We sometimes get a limited supply of hoop-house spinach and other greens, but these are very sporadic (basically whenever farms have a glut), and they generally appear either in the late fall or early spring. Otherwise, we have to rely on fresh veggies that are shipped from climates more suited to winter production than ours. If you’re really committed to local eating through the winter, root vegetables are the way to go. These are crops that are harvested in the fall and stored through the winter. We carry local carrots, onions, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, turnips, parsnips, celeriac, beauty heart radishes, and other root veggies through most of the winter. I hope this is helpful. Let me know if you have any more questions!
Best, Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director Income taxes
Q: My wife and I just received our 2017 annual report and in examining the income statement I was surprised to see a line item for income taxes. When did the cooperative become a taxable not-for-profit, and why?
A: Thank you for your inquiry. We have always been incorporated as a for-profit cooperative under Chapter 185. We have never been incorporated as a non-profit charitable organization. We have always paid state sales tax and federal income tax. Wisconsin cooperatives are exempt from paying state income tax, so we do not pay Wisconsin corporate income tax. The tax amount in our annual report reflects a book entry to reconcile the timing of when we recognize depreciation expense on our books compared to when we are allowed to recognize depreciation expense on our federal income tax return. We hire a CPA firm to audit our books annually and to prepare our federal tax return. They also provide us with guidance and expertise on tax planning. Thanks again for your inquiry and please let me know if you have any other questions.
-Paige Wickline, Finance Director
VAPOR IN THE AIR
Q: Yesterday afternoon (12/30), I was at Willy North, looking for a probiotic supplement when I noticed a strong odor of what I assume was essential oils. I looked around and saw a diffuser spraying a stream of vapor into the air. Knowing that I can be sensitive to perfumes and so forth, I left the area immediately and checked out. Unfortunately, the encounter caused me respiratory irritation and swelling that lasted several hours. I wanted to let you know that essential oils can cause serious respiratory problems for many people with asthma, allergies, and other respiratory diseases (like COPD). I urge you to discontinue using a diffuser, to avoid inadvertently causing breathing difficulties for your shoppers with respiratory problems. Until then, I will need to avoid the HABA section completely and limit my time in the rest of the store. Thank you!
A: Thank you for your customer comment concerning the essential oil diffuser that is on the wellness desk. I apologize that it caused you respiratory irritation while shopping and after. Our intention is to show customers how the diffuser operates. Moving forward we will use only water in the diffusor and can turn the unit off for any customer upon request, knowing that many customers have respiratory problems. Thank you again for your feedback and I hope we can help you in the Wellness department anytime.
-Lily Hoyer-Winfield, Assistant Store Director–North
Q: Good morning. I’ve been looking at your remodeling plans for Willy West. As a frequent coffee drinker there, I could not help but notice that the expanded commons area is very close to the bathrooms. This might be unpleasant for the diners. A: Thanks for the feedback. You’re right, the new bathrooms are close to the expanded commons areas, similar to that of Willy East. We kept the bathrooms in a similar location to where our bathrooms at West are now because moving the plumbing is cost prohibitive. The current design includes privacy screening between the two areas, and we do not believe that the bathrooms will be so close to the dining area that it would be a distraction. That said, we are working out tweaks to the final design plans now, and we will definitely keep your feedback in mind should we have any opportunities to make changes in those areas of the store. Have a great evening.
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: I grew up in the Willy St neighborhood and have lived here for most of my adult life as well. Attending Georgia O’Keeffe Elementary and Middle school (back then named Marquette) I have seen Willy St. Coop through all of its stages of growth and expansion. I fondly remember buying my first “Fruit Leather” fruit snack after school with friends and it being a warm and welcoming experience in the community. While I have been a long time member it is only recently that I have come to rely on the pre-made selection of foods the Coop has to offer. I reflect on how my career has continued to develop and grow over the years, just as the Coop has, and I find myself ever so grateful for its comforting presence. During the hectic work day I often look forward to knowing that I have a wide variety of pre-made foods both hot and cold that are nutritious and fresh to choose from. To the Coop team members that make the pizzas (particularly the Tahini pizza!) I want to say BRAVO! And, THANK YOU! From the sushi, to sandwiches, to pastas, to kale and beets, the salad bar, warm meal selections, and desserts all are delicious and their preparation is much appreciated. With such limited free time to cook for myself, I dare to ask where I might be if I didn’t have such a large selection of pre-made foods to choose from. Therefore, I and other busy Coop members are lucky that instead of “grabbing something to go” we have the option of “grabbing a bit to eat with our community”, and I truly value that.
A: Wow, thank you so much for the kind words, they made my morning and I’m sure they will make our employees’ days as well! I’ve passed on your compliments to our teams in the East Deli, the Production Kitchen, and Shizen Sushi. I’ve also posted your positive comments for all of our employees to enjoy. We’re so glad to hear that you appreciate our prepared foods selection, and that we have been able to provide you with quality service throughout your life. We look forward to seeing you in the store again soon! Take care.
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
BAIT & SWITCH?
Q: Willy West: Green Kale & Lacinato Kale were on sale $1.49 ea. or 3/$4.00. I purchased a bunch of Kale that rang in at $2.79. I noticed the error on my receipt as I was exciting the store. I went to customer service. We walked over to the Kale area. She (customer service lady) points out & reads the sign to me. “Green Kale & Lacinato Kale”. Yes—I saw the sign when I picked out my bunch of kale. She then points to the green kale on the left side of the bin and the Lacinato kale on the right side of the bin. The problem was that the purple kale (the one I had picked out) was in the MIDDLE of the bin and directly above the sign. Note that the bin was heaping and freshly topped off. There were no divisions between the 3 types of kale—all meshed together and the purple and green look very similar. If the purple kale was NOT part of the sale then why was it all put in the same bin and even worse, why was it all placed in between the 2 varieties that were on sale? This is the sort of thing regular super markets do all the time and so often that I am convinced that it is done on purpose. I just never thought that Willy St would stoop to such tactics. I was lucky to have caught it. But I wonder how many people chose the purple Kale because it was the one right above the sign and assumed it was on sale and I wonder how many people either never get a receipt or if they do ever check it. How many people were overcharged?
A: Hello and thanks for writing. I am so sorry you had this experience at Willy West! I can assure you that there was no intention to trick customers into purchasing kale that wasn’t on sale. This was simply an oversight on our part—we did not change up our regular display for the sale, and we should have. I’m ccing our West Side produce manager, Max, on this email. He oversees the produce merchandising at Willy West, and I’m sure he’ll see to it that this sort of thing doesn’t happen again.
Best, Megan Minnick, Director of Purchasing
BULK SECTION BASICS
Q: Hello, I am looking for information about your bulk section. I am doing research on the challenges of offering bulk goods. Specifically I am researching ways to reduce single use plastic and was thinking that offering more bulk goods can help to reduce it. I have been to Willy Street when in Madison (I am in Milwaukee) and love your co-op. How well is the bulk section received and used by your customer base? What do you do to encourage more people to purchase from bulk? Has offering a good selection of bulk items lessened your need for single use packaging? Any insight you can offer would be appreciated.
A: Thanks for reaching out! Our bulk aisle is a big hit with our customers, and sets us apart from other grocers. Most of our core shoppers use it regularly and learn that the items in the bulk aisle are very fresh, since the bins are replenished frequently. Many of our new shoppers appreciate being able to purchase as little or as much as they would like. This is how we promote the aisle as well: if you only need a tablespoon of cinnamon, why buy a whole spice jar? If you rarely use whole wheat flour but need a cup of it for a recipe, just buy one cup of it! To help illustrate the savings, we have some signs explaining rough portion cost since the per pound price can sometimes make the product seem really expensive, when most people are really only buying a fraction of a pound. We offer tours of our bulk aisle to show shoppers the layout of the aisle, how to read price labels, tare container weights, and fill containers with product. We share interesting pieces of information about our diverse bulk offerings on the tour, and offer tips and tricks for saving money in this popular section of the store. We’ve also done a few videos to explain how to use the aisle (and get customers more comfortable with it). We tend to put all organic bulk or all bulk products on sale a few times per year, and we like to bring new items into the bulk aisle as well to keep it fresh and new. That helps increase exposure. Once our shoppers become familiar with the section, they become consistent bulk shoppers who love the lower prices and the ability to minimize packaging. The bulk section has also allowed for us to cut down on packaging, because some items sell much better in bulk than they do packaged on a shelf (for example, we have only a very small section of packaged rice and grain). According to regulations, we are required to offer a free package for bulk items, and so we have both paper and plastic bag options. We also have plastic and glass containers available for purchase. If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to ask! Best of luck with your research!
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director
Q: I’ve been looking at the new floor plan for the Willy West remodeling project. I generally like what I see, but I have concerns about the space allocations. For example, the floor plan seems to suggest that a perceived need for increased capacity in the produce department will not be addressed. The floor space is increasing but not apparently the produce capacity. My question is, can the existing island produce stands be replaced with new versions to provide more room for produce? Another concern is the space allocation for bread. The current space has not been enough, in my opinion, particularly for families buying multiple loaves of bread each week. The floor plan shows that the bread is moving to a new location, but it seems there will still not be enough space. Part of the problem is that bread is sharing the new space with the olive bar. While I agree that there is some logic to have the olive bar near the cheese department, I believe bread sales are a higher priority than olives. The olives need to be elsewhere in favor of bread. My third concern has to do with the space allocation for packaged foods. The Willy West remodeling is going to bring in more customers, and certain packaged foods will need more space due to the greater demand for these items. That means that some packaged foods could be moved, but added space to receive them is not shown on the floor plan. My opinion is that the space allocated for wine, liquor, and beer could be adjusted to include additional space for packaged foods. An alternative is to move the paper goods, cleaning products, and other non-grocery goods into this space.
A: Thank you so much for your interest in the West expansion and for sharing your comments. The budget, as well as the additional space we have available for the West expansion is fixed. Our main objective at this time is to ensure we can make the best use of the new space we have had the rare opportunity to acquire, knowing that we will always have opportunities to do further capital improvements to the space and upgrades to equipment in the future. We do not have plans to make many changes to the Produce department during the expansion, though some of the changes to our backstock space may allow for more efficiencies in Produce, and the reconfiguration of our front end and customer service area will open up the space available making it more comfortable for shoppers to navigate, which is currently our most pressing issue. We agree that the island units could use some upgrades, and while they won’t be part of the expansion project, we do have plans to make these upgrades over the next few years. Sometimes it’s hard to envision spatial changes on a floor plan, since it doesn’t necessarily account for the height and depth of the shelving and display fixtures. I’m pleased to report that the merchandising area for bread is growing from 20 linear feet to 38 linear feet, and that our packaged grocery displays are planned to grow from 260 linear feet to about 315-320 linear feet. The details regarding the expanded merchandising space for packaged grocery and beer and wine are under revision, and an updated floorplan will be available later this month. This section of the current floorplan, as well as the one in revision, also create more backstock space for receiving. We do plan to display more of our general merchandise products in this area, as you have suggested, and there will be some additional grocery merchandising near the hot bar. The bottom line is that we can assure most every department is either growing as a result of this expansion, or will have some room to grow at a later time. Please let us know if you have further questions or concerns.
-Kirsten Moore, Cooperative Services Director