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.