Thursday, July 17, 2014

Voting with Dollars: Eden Foods is Off the Shelves in Seattle Co-op


Like many stores, Central Co-op in Seattle became aware of Eden Foods' anti-birth-control policies last year. Like many stores, they decided not to boycott them, despite pressure from their consumers, because, "we decided not to join a boycott over this one point of divergence. Your strong stance on product safety and GMO issues precluded a complete severance of our relationship."

This is precisely the kind of decision that I was arguing against in my CNN piece and on the blog, but also that I am resigned to seeing. Eden Foods has had a deep grip on certain aspects of the organic food market and they are hoping people will care more about food quality than about the religious exemption and women's rights.

Moreover, I am sympathetic to stores that are hesitant to take a stance in an issue that is politicized, even if, as I argue, the core question is ethical. Stores that want to stay in business have to be careful.

But there's good news, as reported in an open letter from Central Co-op to Eden Foods. Consumers in Seattle are voting with their dollars. The letter reads:
We encourage our owners and customers to vote with their dollars by supporting companies that they respect. This is what we suggested our community do when outcry arose over your action last year; and recent renewed interest in your case was cause for us to review sales of Eden products and explore what options we might have that equally (or better) reflect our product guidelines. During this review we found that our community has indeed been voting with their dollars and that 80 percent of the Eden products on our shelves have failed to keep up with the sales of competing products. It is clear that your company has lost support from our community and that people are showing preference to other product lines.
GREAT WORK SEATTLE SHOPPERS. And kudos to Central Co-op for running the numbers, seeing the pattern, and being willing to publicize the results. I'm also really interested in their assessment that whereas once Eden Foods was an essential provider for the natural foods market, this has changed. There are lots of suppliers out there, so they can substitute less politically-charged brands for the products that aren't selling.

They conclude the letter asking Eden Foods to re-think their lawsuit, writing, "We realize that no company is perfect, including ours, and we remain diligent in our evaluation of which products most closely align with our values, and most effectively meet the needs of our community. In our judgment, this decision of yours moves you down the order of consideration among the options available to us."

This is how we win. Store by store, reducing profit margins, and either pressuring Eden to change their politics or making them irrelevant.

I have requests out to several other Co-ops and Whole Foods to find out if their sales figures have dipped. We'll see if they respond (some have promised to do so).

Here's what we do next.

Go to your co-op and ask them to assess how Eden Foods is selling and whether they could substitute the product for a company that supports women's rights. Organize locally. Collect data. Make sure your local food communities know what Eden Foods really stands for. Get them off the shelves, store by store, product by product.

6 comments:

Harvest said...

Not only are they suing to not have to cover any birth control at all, in the past infants have gotten sick and some even died from being given soy milk. During this time Eden had on its labels that their soy milk was good for babies, and a baby drinking their soy milk ended up in the hospital. They didn't remove the 'good for babies" statement until the FDA specifically sent them a very strongly worded letter. Subsequently the FDA called for all soy milk to carry a statement that indicates that it isn't good for babies, Eden Soy has not complied. "As the FDA wrote in a 1990 warning, soy milk is “grossly lacking in the nutrients needed for infants.” The agency then advised manufacturers to put warning labels on soy milks so they would not be used as formula substitutes. Yet most makers of soy milk put those warnings on the package in very tiny print, if at all. The warnings are in little red type on the brand you’ve chosen, but so hard to see I would not be surprised if you never saw it.

"The FDA took action back in 1990 after a two-month old girl in California was hospitalized with severe malnutrition. Her parents had fed her EdenSoy brand soy milk instead of infant formula. Because of this and a similar incident in Arkansas involving the SoyMoo brand of soy milk, the FDA issued a warning on June 13, 1990. Since then, most brands of soy milk — but not EdenSoy — include warning labels in tiny print on their packages." http://www.westonaprice.org/blogs/kdaniel/why-organic-soy-milk-is-not-a-good-alternative-tosoy-formula/

David Perry said...

Yeah, there's good soy formula out there, but ...

E Creely said...

So, my co-op is Rainbow Foods Grocery in San Francisco. I just took action, based on your letter above.
I must say, I find their attitude (Rainbow's) infuriating. I wrote them once and received a response that was canned and lackadaisical. Yet this is a grocery that has been front and center of so many civil and human rights issues in San Francisco.

The attitude almost seems to be: we've secured our rights as workers by forming a co-op. We don't have to care or worry about anyone else's.

Anyway, this is the letter. I'm following up with a phone call later:


Hi, Rainbow Grocery! I wrote you about a month ago, asking you to drop Eden Foods from your vendor list. You replied about a week later, saying, in essence, that unless it was introduced by a worker and voted on by a majority of workers, you would not.

This was not heartening. I have to tell you, although I have not stopped shopping at Rainbow, it's become harder. It's embittering to walk into a store-especially one in which the workers have organized to secure their rights as workers- and see a company like Eden Foods which seems to believe the exact opposite re: my rights to federally funded health care and reproductive health.

I'm sending you this article in hopes we can keep an open dialogue about the presence of Eden Foods. Have you thought about seeing if sales have dropped? The outcry against Eden Foods is nation wide and discontent with their conservative views of human sexuality have, in one instance, caused sales of Eden products to drop.

How about conducting a survey, like the Central Co-op in Seattle did, which reviewed sales, and found that Eden Foods was simply not selling. That would be one step.

Another is posting a open letter to your customers, letting them know that you are aware of Eden's intransigence and posting a list of companies that are good substitutes from Eden Foods?

These are clear, measurable, steps you could take to maintain your commitment to (as phrased on your website)

Providing affordable vegetarian food products which have minimal negative impact ecologically and socially, and
Supporting fair labor practices

Both of these mission statements would seem to support clearing Eden Organics from your shelves.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth Creely

David Perry said...

Thanks Elizabeth. Let me know if you are getting anywher!

E Creely said...

I will.

MK said...

I haven't investigated their stance on this issue, but when we were buying canned goods at Linden Hills Co-op in Minneapolis we noticed that they've diminished the shelf space for Eden Foods and are carrying competing products instead (also with BPA-free liners).