The NEC’s Monthly 3-Question Survey

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June’s Survey Topic: Sugar, Sweets, and Product Placement

Please click here to go to our survey!
The Nutrition and Education Committee (NEC) posts a short survey every month in the Co-op Voice in order to learn what your thoughts are about our Co-op.

Did you know that added sugar is found in 74% of packaged foods sold in supermarkets today, including many savory foods and items marketed as ‘healthy?’ And did you know that, on average, each person in America eats nearly 66 pounds of added sugar every year? Wow, that’s a lot of sugar! Want to learn more? Try these links:

Did you know that, for many years, Honest Weight Food Co-op (HWFC) did not carry sugar or products with a high percentage of added sugar (or many other things, for that matter)? You read right: carrying sugar was against our policies. From what most people that we spoke to about the subject remember, there was quite a bit of controversy over sugar, sweets, and whether or not we should carry them. That period of time for the Co-op is commonly referred to as the “Sugar Wars.” Sounds crazy, huh? But we have a lot of people here at the Co-op who really care about their food. They also really care about what is in their store. Once the “Sugar Referendum” passed and we started carrying items containing sugar, we had very strict rules about product placement. They could not be near the registers, they could not be reached by children, etc.

Currently, we don’t really have any rules about product placement for sugar or sweets and we wondered whether you think we should? Please answer our survey and tell us what you think!

April’s Survey Results

Thank you for taking the time and effort to respond to April’s survey about the Food and Product Manual (FPM). We all thought the results of this survey were very interesting! Please click here to see the full results of April’s survey and make sure you click “Comments” at the bottom of each question in order to open up the respondents’ comments.

Our first question was, “Are you aware the Co-op has a Food and Product Manual (FPM)?” We were surprised to learn that over a third of respondents did not know about the FPM. One respondent said, “I received one at orientation. What I do not have/know is what changes and updates are made over time” and another was concerned that a small group of people may not properly represent the wishes of a larger cross-section of our community. The Co-op posts a copy of our current Food and Product Manual (FPM) on our website, so you can check it out at any time. Also, if you participate in our Membership Meetings you will be voting on any changes that take place to the FPM. Those of us in the NEC do not make changes to the FPM on our own. We do the research, we propose language, we take it to the Membership who can either approve our proposed change or, if not approved, we go back to the drawing board. We try to write a manual that’s consistent with our mission, will keep us in business, and covers what we believe is most important to our customers.

Our second question in April was, “How important do you feel it is that the Co-op maintains the FPM and adheres to the guidelines agreed-upon in it?” Almost 75% of our respondents felt it was very important. We think it is too! All respondents felt it was at least somewhat important.

One respondent expressed this concern in response to our second question: “We don’t seem to have some of the labeling that we voted for. What happened?” We assume that this was in regards to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) labeling in our store, which was supposed to be completed by the beginning of the year. What happened is…the NEC is understaffed for this task. It is part of the NEC’s responsibilities to work on this initiative and we are putting in all the hours we can to complete this project along with all the other projects we have. There are thousands of products to check and only a few of us to do the checking.

We could sure use some more good Member-Owners to help our committee check the products on our shelves! If you have an interest in policing the shelves in the store, you could fulfill some of your time commitment by ensuring our products are in compliance with the FPM. This is an important job. Please contact the NEC through e-mail at NutritionComm-AT-honestweight.coop, or contact our Co-op’s Member-Owner Coordinator, Yevette, at memberservices-AT-honestweight.coop or by calling her at 518.482.2667 x 104. You can also stop by one of our meetings, usually the third Monday of the month in the Small Conference Room at 5:30 pm—except for this month, when our meeting will be on Tuesday, June 19 at 5:30pm. (We moved it because there is a Membership Meeting on Monday, June 18th at the First Unitarian Universalists of Albany, 405 Washington Avenue! Please come to the meeting and Vote!)

Our third question was, “If you had a concern about whether a product in the Co-op fit into our FPM guidelines, what would you do?” Over a third of respondents said they would talk to someone at the Front Desk. Over a fifth said they would talk to a Department Manager and almost a fifth said they would put a note in the Suggestion Box (at the Front Desk). Others said they would talk to Department Staff, do nothing, send a note to the NEC, or do something else. Several respondents wish they could have chosen more than one answer (sorry, we didn’t give that as an option). One respondent suggested reducing plastic on all fronts and said “Bravo on the reused jars,” referring to the free, clean, sanitized, re-usable containers available in the Bulk Department below the Bulk Oils.

One respondent had concerns about customers putting their hands into bulk containers. We asked Tom Gillespie, the Bulk Department Manager what the policy is on this subject. He said:

By no means, do we allow customers or even ‘guests’ to access, by hand, the food we sell. It is our policy to intervene and educate our customers that it is the expectation of others that the food we sell go unhandled. If the food is determined to be corrupted, it will be set aside for staff consumption. However, legally speaking, all food ingredients may be handled by producers, food handlers, and customers alike….regardless of food handling laws, any of the Bulk Department Staff would have no qualms about speaking to an individual for reaching into a bin with their ungloved hand. I am sure the Cheese Dept. follows similar guidelines with both their sample piles and Olive Bar and Produce with their fruits.

Another respondent said they were increasingly frustrated at the amount of white flour products at the Co-op, which they feel is contrary to the FPM. And yet another asked, “Why do we have so many unhealthy foods? And so many ingredients that the FPM says we don’t carry? And why does it take so long to stop carrying these? Does the staff not tell anyone? Who is really in charge of that anyway?” To answer these questions, here are some excerpts from the FPM, Starting on page 7:

What HWFC Strives to Avoid
The following items/ingredients/additives are controversial within the Co-op community and thus HWFC strives to avoid selling products containing these. We recommend that concerned shoppers also review Environmental Working Group (EWG) guidelines, which are frequently updated….

White Refined Flour:
Refining flour removes important nutrients. Because of customer demand, staff stock refined flour and products containing refined flour. However, the HWFC continues to promote whole grains and whole grain flours, bread, and pasta.

White Refined Sugar:
White sugar is a highly refined product of limited nutritional value. The HWFC bylaws stipulate that we will avoid selling products with refined white sugar when practical, but with no standardized term for sugar used in package labeling, this has become increasingly difficult to achieve. Staff attempt to stock products with a variety of sweeteners and unsweetened products to satisfy a variety of dietary needs.

These are only two examples of items/ingredients/additives under the heading of “What HWFC Strives to Avoid.” There are many more; this section of the FPM is mainly included for educational purposes. The Co-op is not restricted from selling products containing these things in the way that the FPM section, “What HWFC Shall Not Knowingly Sell,” limits the Co-op’s products. Again, quoting from the FPM, page 13:

What HWFC Shall Not Knowingly Sell:
The following are items/ingredients/additives that the Membership of HWFC has decided not to sell because they contradict the principles on which the Co-op was founded. Any product found to contain any of the listed items/ingredients/additives is out of compliance with this FPM and will be removed by managerial staff….

Artificial Food Coloring
Artificial Preservatives and Additives
BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole)
BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
Nitrites and Propionates
Parabens
Potassium Sorbate
Potassium Bromate
Sodium Benzoate
Potassium Benzoate
Calcium Benzoate
Artificial Sweeteners
Dairy Products from Cows that are given Growth Hormones
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Inhumane Products
Tobacco
PFCs (Perfluorinated Compounds)
PFOA (Perfluorooctanoic Acid)
PFOS (Perfluorooctane Sulfonic Acid)
PTFE (Teflon)

Products containing the items/ingredients/additives included in this list are known to be detrimental to health or the environment, based on clear scientific evidence, and our Membership voted to not sell any product containing these. If you do find products containing any of the things listed in the FPM under “What HWFC Shall Not Knowingly Sell,” please bring it to our attention. You can contact the NEC by e-mail at NutritionComm-AT-honestweight.coop or stop in at the Front Desk and leave a message for us. We will see to it that the proper people are notified and the product is removed.

It is unfortunate that even though we strive to avoid certain products because we know they have limited nutritional value or questionable ingredients, we do not currently have the ability to remove them completely from the store. Our community shows us with their shopping habits that there is a demand for these products. And there will continue to be a demand until the community learns that there are healthier choices. So, maybe they don’t know any better, but we can try to teach them. Maybe they don’t want to know; as long as they are a part of our community, we can still try to reach them. It is true, this can be a controversial subject. Although some of us do not agree with the sale or use of these products, we as individuals can be stricter about our own purchases, we can choose to educate others in the nutritional value of whole foods, and we can wait until our debt for the new building is paid off, when the Co-op can financially afford to truly commit to our mission, which we’ve re-printed here as a reminder of our Co-op’s core values:

Honest Weight is a member owned and operated consumer cooperative that is committed to providing the community with affordable, high quality natural foods and products for healthy living. Our mission is to promote more equitable, participatory and ecologically sustainable ways of living. We welcome all who choose to participate in a community which embraces cooperative principles, shares resources, and creates economic fairness in an atmosphere of cooperation and respect for humanity and the earth.

Thank you for all the great comments and thanks again for your participation!
Please come back every month to weigh in with your opinions!