PLASTIC STRAWS FOR THOSE WHO NEED THEM
Q: I had mixed feelings when I read the article titled “What Does the Future Hold for Plastics at the Co-op?” I was very happy to read about the Co-op’s commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly practices, but was very disappointed to see that no one had thought about people with disabilities. I’m speaking specifically about getting rid of plastic straws. Many people cannot drink independently without plastic straws. This decision has not been made with all of our owners and shoppers in mind. A simple Google search of ‘plastic straws disability’ will bring up several articles written by people with disabilities and disability activists. In many of these articles they state that biodegradable, compostable, or metal straws will not work for a variety of reasons. Biodegradable or compostable straws can melt in hot liquids and won’t hold up if someone has it in their mouth for an extended period of time or if they happen to frequently bite down hard on it. Metal straws heat up too much in hot liquids and can burn someone. They also pose a hazard if the person using them bites down frequently. All of these concerns are legitimate concerns that disabled people have. Just read some articles and you will see what they are saying. I’m also in several Facebook groups that are made up of many different disabled members, and they have been very vocal about their concerns with banning plastic straws. They are the experts on their experiences, and they deserve to be listened to. The alternatives to plastic straws simply won’t work for many people. A very simple solution would be to have plastic straws available by request, with signage stating that they are available if needed. If we truly want to be a store that is here for everyone in the community, we need to make sure we are thinking about everyone, not just people without disabilities. I want people to think of the Co-op as a place that considered the needs of all of their community. I want to feel proud that we think about those with disabilities because, to be honest, not many businesses do. Thank you, and I hope we consider this as a solution. It is what the disability community is asking for.
A: Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns. Sometimes we rush to make what seem to be easy decisions and we don’t always think of all of the unintended consequences. This is a perfect example where I did just that. I love your solution and think it will be easy to implement since we are still working through our supply of plastic straws.
-Jeremy Johnson, Meat & Specialty Manager
Q: To whom it may concern, my family are Co-op members and we greatly appreciate the amazing work you all do to keep us healthy with all the fresh and organic products you have. I am also very happy with how one of the Co-op’s focus is to help the environment by choosing environmentally responsible producers. Thanks again. The reason I am writing is because a very significant (negative), health and environmental concern just came to my attention. I am Costa Rican, and my entire family is still leaving there. I come from a very small village call La Flor de Rio Cuarto. This Village is one of a kind, in my opinion. About a 90 percent of the village members are somehow related and this people have been living in this town for decades. Thanks to the cleanliness of their waters and the fresh air they had always enjoyed, they love this place (I also love it). They all support each other when in difficult situations, and they love having this support. Just about a week ago, my sister call and told me how our town/village was supplying water to neighboring town because the aquiferous (under water supply) are being contaminated by the chemicals (herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides), specially the herbicides, of expanding pineapple plantations in the area. She told me that she was afraid that in the long run, if they keep expanding, the water of our town will also be contaminated. There are currently four town in the same area that are being helped (giving water to) by other towns. She also mentioned how those chemicals are affecting biodiversity in the area. Pineapple monoculture, what is happening right now in our country, is affecting live that do not depend on pineapple to survive, which for a country that once claimed to contained about a 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity, this is a catastrophe. The honey bees, which account for multiple species, are being greatly affected by the chemicals. Here in the United States are all familiar with the impact of chemicals on honeybees. On the other hand, we may not think about a sea of mammals, birds, etc., that are disappearing just because one’s doesn’t care. While the effect of agriculture on biodiversity is not what I am trying to focus on right now, I am very passionate about my country’s environment and wildlife, and I also want to protect it. Many probably don’t care about what is happening in Costa Rica, but here in the states, many people don’t know what they are actually eating and supporting. People here in the States, probably do not know that by buying products such as pineapple coming from these places, they are feeding money to extremely large corporations, which in my opinion, are deliberately poisoning people’s water and wildlife. Even if the pineapple is organic, which is what they are telling their buyers, there is a good chance this places use herbicides to remove weeds before they plant the “seed” (crown or growth). I would like this information to get to as many people as possible. Just as I am getting inform about this issue, I would also like other to be inform. This is not only affecting me, my families, and friends, this is also affecting everyone (humans) who loves clean air and clean waters. “Praise, like gold and diamonds, owes its value only to its scarcity” Samuel Johnson
A: Thank you so much for taking the time to write about this important issue. You are absolutely correct that many of us in the United States really have no good way to understand the impacts of our food choices on the places where that food is grown, especially when those places are far away like Costa Rica is. This is a really great reminder of that. I will request that this comment be included in our Co-op Reader so other Co-op Owners can read it.
As you mention, we do our best to choose the most environmentally friendly products that we can, including selling exclusively certified organic pineapple at Willy East and West. Willy North carries some non-organic pineapple because there are shoppers there who have asked to have a lower cost alternative. We don’t always have a choice as to which grower we get our pineapple from, but we will certainly continue to search out growers who have documented that they are acting in an environmentally and socially conscious way.
Thank you again for writing. I very much appreciate it.
Best, Megan Minnick, Purchasing Director
Q: Medium grain white rice. This is a staple for our Puerto Rican household. It feels alienating not to find here what to us is such a basic item. Please help us and other Puerto Rican households in Madison to buy our basics here! Thank you!
A: We’ve been trying to get this product in for you and after some trial and error with a few of our vendors, we’ve got an option on our shelves! You can find La Preferida 5-lb bags of medium grain rice in aisle 4 here at Willy East. Thanks so much for letting us know what you were looking for!
-Liz Patterson, Assistant Grocery Manager-East
Q: Hey, thanks for always keeping the tables so tidy in the common area! Just a heads up that the back of the chairs could use a wipe near the handles. All those newspaper readers can leave black ink smudges.
A: Thanks for your comment. The backs of those chairs have been on our radar for a while. Unfortunately, they look so dirty due to repeated cleaning! Please know that we do wipe them down but that they probably won’t look better in the near future. We are currently looking to replace them with ones that will be easier to wipe down and keep clean without damaging the actual chair.
Thanks again, Anna Geisthardt, Front End Manager-East
BASIC CUSTOMER SERVICE
Q: This is basic customer service. I’m at the service desk. 3 then 5 employees standing around. One started to help me, but she was paying attention to a conversation. Then another started to help me, then a third. All I was getting was a refund for an overcharge. The customer/owner deserves undivided attention when it’s their turn. Other employees shouldn’t interrupt nor should they answer the phone! Geez, I shouldn’t have to tell you folks this. It’s poor customer service and just plain rude!
A: I apologize for your experience at the Customer Service desk. It can be a hustle and bustle multi-tasking space, but you are correct in that when we are helping one specific customer, we should be giving them our undivided attention. Thank you for your comment and I will be sure to go over this with my staff.
-Anna Geisthardt, Front End Manager-East
Q: Udi’s gluten-free is kept frozen in other venues (not Willy). This keeps it fresher. (zero preservatives). So buying an Udi’s gluten-free loaf is like buying a loaf that is 2-3 weeks old. It really ages it. I only by 1 loaf if in a pinch.
A: Thanks for letting us know that you would prefer to buy Udi’s bread frozen. We offer the Udi’s bread refrigerated and not frozen as a service to our customers. We want gluten-free bread to be available ready-to-use for those who would like it. However, this product does come in frozen and we would be happy to sell it to you that way if we have some on hand in the back. Feel free to ask next time you are in and looking for a frozen loaf! Please let us know if you have any other questions or concerns! Thank you!
–Liz Patterson, Assistant Grocery Manager-East
Q: So I love the dried mangoes and been getting them (even though they are expensive) since I discovered them a year ago. I noticed that in the past couple of months they have been brown and taste like they have gone bad. The brown ones are also being hidden in the middle so you can’t see them—but the price is the same. What’s up with this? As of today, there wasn’t one good bag!
A: Thanks for giving us feedback about the dried mango you have purchased recently. We haven’t heard any other similar feedback, but it’s possible that the quality can vary for this product due to the season/time of harvest. We’ll certainly follow up with the folks who package these up at our Production Kitchen. You are more than welcome to make a return or receive refund. Please see Customer Service at any of our stores to facilitate this.
Have you tried the Equal Exchange Mango Cheeks we have in stock right now? They are pricey ($13.49/lb) but worth every penny!
–Liz Patterson, Assistant Grocery Manager–East
WHAT IS CO-OP BASICS?
Q: I’m not totally clear on the Co-op Basics tag/labeling system. Is that something on sale? I get the 2-week sale tags etc. but Co-op Basics is not something I understand. Thank you.
A: Thanks for your question! Co-op Basics products are our best quality products at our best prices. They aren’t on sale, but almost every one is at the listed price for at least three months, and some have been at that price for years! They are a collection of staple products, many of which we can provide at reduced pricing thanks to the buying power of National Co-op Grocers, of which we’re a member. Aside from some produce, Co-op Basics items that change seasonally, there are few products that leave this program; we more typically add products, and now have over 450 on the program.
-Brendon Smith, Communications Director
Q: Last week, we came to Willy East to spend the last of our Double Dollars on some ‘not-so-perfect” produce (thank you so much—a huge savings and help to better our health!). Anna S was checking us out, and she noted that we were not signed up for access discount! We thought we had, but obviously not! So she signed us up on the spot, and right away we received our discount. Thank you, Anna S, and thank you, Co-op for excellent training of staff! LOVE our access discount, the double dollars program and produce discounts.
A: Thanks for writing in and sharing your experience with us! I am so happy to share with Anna S, her manager and the rest of the staff. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
-Amanda Ikens, Owner Resources Coordinator–East
Q: I can’t imagine I’m the first WSGC member who’s pointed out to you/questioned the stupidity of the Coop continuing to use the attached/enclosed plastic food container for packaging various and sundry foodstuffs (in this case, you will note, it’s pesto).
Why is it “stupid,” you ask?
Just how much (in this case, pesto) food is wasted because of the container’s ridged sides, ridges that trap some of the food. Good luck to the consumer who has the patience and the kitchen implement to pry loose that trapped food—small amount that it might be. (But a significant amount when you total all that trapped food—pesto and a multitude of other deli type items)—wasted due to this container’s design.)
Now, I know that WSGC understands the food wastage issue. Indeed, just today I read this from a local company called Curbside Composter: “Food waste is the 2nd largest landfill contribution in the U.S. Nearly 1/3 of all food is wasted from farm to fork.”
If those claims are true, then you, dear Coop, are contributing to that problem.
Please tell me I’m wrong in long ago concluding that WSGC continues to use this stupidly designed, guaranteed to waste food type of packaging because the favorite nephew of a board member or Coop staffer secured the contract to sell them to WSGC.
If Bountiful Bean and Banzo’s can locate plastic containers without the food-wasting design of the type used by the Coop, why can’t WSGC?
Thanks in advance for your anticipated timely reply.
A: I appreciate your candor regarding our choice of container in the deli. I shall respond in-kind.
You are correct in your assumption that we have questioned the design of the containers that we use. The ridges are just as much of an annoyance internally as you have expressed as an end-user. According to the manufacturer (Placon, in Fitchburg), the material used is largely post-consumer recycled polyethylene terephthalate, a limited resource that is reclaimed from recycled plastics that the company is attempting to use wisely. The ridges exist so they can use less material per unit (they provide more structural strength than a “flat” side wall) and extend the material further. We have, historically, weighed the “food waste” concern against the “plastic use and sustainability” concern and leaned toward the latter as a priority.
I have examined the containers in use by Bunky’s, for instance. I do like the design quite a bit. That being said, the manufacturer, Inline Plastics, has been much less forthcoming about their production practices and reclamation techniques than Placon has been. You can compare for yourself: www.inlineplastics.com/why-inline-plastics/sustain... (link is external) www.placon.com/sustainability/ecostar-pet-sheet/ (link is external)
We were largely attracted to Placon for this reason in addition to the fact that they are a very local company. I have never heard of a familial connection with Placon and the Co-op. The staff member who initially sought Placon out was a past Deli Manager at our East Side store and she found them because of their posted sustainability initiatives. In response to a series of comments like this one, I should add.
While we have historically overlooked the inconvenient design of our deli containers, going forward I think we may not have to. I had secured samples of some new options right around the time your comment came to my attention. The (proposed) solution comes in the form of two new types of containers:
Dips and spreads (like the pesto) will come in a 5 oz container: www.ecoproducts.com/round_deli_and_portion_cups.html (link is external)
This path is fairly settled. We should be transitioning to these by mid-June at the latest. It’s been worked on for a little while.
Other Deli salads will (possibly—it’s not yet settled) come in a 8 or 16 oz. container: www.placon.com/products/stock-food-package/crystal... (link is external)
This 8/16 oz container still has a few structural ridges, but significantly less than the previous model we’ve been using. We have done some testing internally and have found them much easier to use. We also think it will help that the dips and spreads will transition to the round container. The remaining product types (salads and such) have less “waste potential” and should work well in these. We additionally like that they are tamper-evident—something our current packaging doesn’t offer.
It is an interesting tug-of-war when it comes to packaging. In addition to your comment, I receive many others imploring me to seek containers using less plastic, no plastic, certain types of plastics, etc. In my mind, well-applied plastic usage has the potential to decrease food waste. That usage may increase plastic waste, however. It honestly feels like an area where we may never please all concerned.
Thanks for your patience in awaiting my reply.
-Patrick Schroeder, Prepared Foods Category Manager
Q: When the store opens at 7:30am, it needs to be completely ready for customers; often, it isn’t. Most grocery stores make sure that major shelf restocking, for instance, and laying out of produce, are done before the store opens. Why doesn’t the Co-op get that done?
A: The short answer has to do with the time limitations on when we can receive our deliveries, the amount of produce we need to bring in to support our sales and the lack of space to store this product off the retail floor prior to stocking.
We are starting a discussion about the possibility of adding a third shift to do some stocking overnight, something that many other grocery stores do. While we are looking at this from an efficiency standpoint, it also has the potential to improve the store readiness in the morning.
Thanks for your questions.
Sincerely, Kristin Esselstrom, Store Director–East
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN LABELING
Q: Why are there no “country of origin” or “place of origin” stickers or other way of showing that info on the bulk products? It used to be there, and was an important part of my decision-making process. The new bulk labels look lovely but are missing this key piece of information. More info. Not less please!
A: Thanks for writing in. Sorry about the removal of the country of origin on the new labels for the bulk items. We agree that is very important information for our customers and we have made the necessary changes to put that information back on the new labels. Sorry for any inconvenience this change has caused in the meantime.
-Amanda Ikens, Owner Resources Coordinator–East
THANKS FOR THE FOOD
Q: While attending the annual statewide meeting of the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas, sponsored by the Invasive Plant Association of Wisconsin, I found delicious food donated by Willy Street Coop. What a pleasant surprise. Thank you.
A: I’m happy to hear you enjoyed the food donated by Willy Street Co-op. We’re happy to support nonprofit organizations in our community!
Best regards, Liz Hawley, Education and Outreach Coordinator