Suggestion Book: Trendspotting with Norman

Norman Weiss, Weavers Way Purchasing Manager

Greetings and thanks for writing. As usual, suggestions and responses may have been edited for brevity, clarity and/or comedy. In addition, no idea, concept, issue, remark, phrase, description of event, word or word string should be taken seriously. This also applies to the previous sentence.

With the New Year, the natural-food industry is abuzz with trend predictions. There are ingredient trends (turmeric is hot, as are nut oils, mushrooms, pulses, collagen), dietary trends (asynchronous meals, biodosing, gut health), shopping trends (online with delivery, more transparency), recipe trends (floral flavors), agricultural trends (biodynamics is back) and, my new favorite, raw water (untreated spring water, complete with bacteria and parasites).

Having participated in the natural-food business for over four decades, I remember oat bran, Noni juice, acai, fat-free, low-carb, high-protein, spirulina, raw, soy, probiotic. Rarely do any trends sustain themselves over long time periods. Usually it starts when some aspect of a food is found to possibly contribute to health. Then researchers and food technologists and manufacturers and marketers go apeshit creating hundreds of products with the claimed benefit. They sell a bunch, then the trend passes. Some trends are interesting in that they involve going back in time — ancient grains and fermented foods, for example. It turns out our ancestors had some things right food-wise, but because industrialized society came to value bigger, faster and cheaper, we got away from foods that require more time and effort but are superior in many ways in terms of nutrition and sustainability. 

One may well ask what “progress” in food really means.

Also in the news: Walmart is applying for a patent for a process that lets online shoppers view stock photos of perishables like produce, meat and bakery items, then get an opportunity to view and approve the actual items being selected via image scans sent by the store staff. They could even then apply an “edible watermark” so the shopper knows they are receiving the exact item they chose. I wouldn’t have expected the word “watermark” would have ever been combined with the word “edible,” but these are funny times. I wonder what an edible watermark is made of and if it will add flavor.

Depending on who you talk to, online grocery shopping with home delivery may be the wave of the future, and retailers need to adapt by making large investments in technology to pull it off (which is what companies like Walmart, Kroger and Amazon Whole Foods are doing), or online grocery shopping will never capture more than 5 to 10 percent of the market for groceries.

Isn’t it better to make in-person shopping healthy, fun and economical? Which is what Aldi’s, Lidl and Trader Joe’s seem to be doing. Some retailers think shoppers will always want to squeeze an avocado, smell a cantaloupe and look for yellow spots on the broccoli before purchasing. 

There are other reasons to shop in person — no delivery charge, it’s easy to change your mind, you find out about new products, plus it’s a chance to interact with other people engaging in a common activity. 

The other benefit of shopping in person, assuming the store has a useful bulk department, is the opportunity to reduce waste by reusing containers, which I doubt online shopping will accomplish anytime soon. I haven’t read much about environmental impacts of online shopping and delivery, other than the claim it may save some fuel. When I was a kid, we had home delivery of milk, eggs, bread and potato chips (remember Charles Chips?), and the milk bottles and potato-chip canisters were returned for re-use. In a rowhouse community, home delivery probably made more economic and environmental sense than in more spread-out single-home communities. 

It will be interesting to see how the appeal of home delivery evolves with the simultaneous growth of concern about reducing single-use packaging. I’m thinking the solution is for every person to have their own drone, which is sent to a local fulfillment center, where it picks your items into a reusable basket and then flies home, where it recharges — from solar panels, of course — for the next trip. Then all the local drone owners have a party to socialize and share their droned provisions.

suggestions and responses:

s: “Low salt Uncle Jerry’s Oat Bran Pretzels.”

r: (Matt MA) We’ll ask Uncle Jerry if he can deliver some.

s: “I’ve been hearing about the benefits of raw water. Can we stock it?”

r: (Norman) Sure, we can harvest local raw water from the Wissahickon, filter out the duck and goose poop for those who are squeamish and bottle it in trash-picked plastic bottles. Very local and sustainable. We’d probably have to bribe the Health Department inspector with a free bottle, which would be a good test of their health awareness anyway.

s: “Sumac!”

r: (Matt) Not enough requests yet, any others out there?

s: “Do we have cooking sherry?”

r: (Matt) No, but we’ll consider it.

s: “Are our raw almonds pasteurized?”

r: (Norman) Yes and no. All almonds grown in the United States must be pasteurized per a USDA regulation implemented in 2007. Typically, one of two methods is used — steam or fumigation with propylene oxide. Conventional almonds are likely to be fumigated and organic almonds are likely steamed since propylene oxide is not permitted under USDA Organic standards. However, the USDA pasteurization requirement does not apply to almonds grown outside the United States, and Mt. Airy does stock unpasteurized almonds from Spain.

s: “Do we have pomegranate seeds?”

r: (Norman) We’ve had them in the past, but not currently.

s: “What happened to Earth Balance spreads in the square containers?”

r: (Matt) Been out of stock from our supplier. Sorry, we’ll keep ordering.

s: “Marmite?”

r: (Norman) We tried it years ago and it didn’t sell. Any more requests?

s: “Can we have signage on packaged grocery items that are also available in bulk?”

r: (Matt) Good idea. We are working on it!

s: “Corn tortillas that are not sprouted?”

r: (Matt) In Mt. Airy, check out Maria & Ricardo’s in the Prep Case in the front part of the store.

s: “Wondering what the recall process is at Weavers Way.”

r: (Norman) Generally our supplier notifies us of recalls and we check our stock to see if we have any of the recalled batch. If so, we follow the supplier’s directive, which typically is to destroy the product and offer customer refunds, and submit a credit claim for the product we destroy. Most recalls we receive are termed “precautionary.” i.e., there might be an undeclared allergen, a mixup in labelling, a quality issue, and there haven’t been any illnesses reported. Rarely do we get a recall notice that is serious, where people have gotten sick. When we’re alerted to one of those, we will try to run down who bought the product (by reviewing receipts in our point-of-sale system) and attempt to contact them, and also put up signs at the display and other areas. We’ll also post on social media — Facebook, Twitter and the eNews. 

FYI, the FDA recall website probably averages about 20 food recalls a month, most due to undeclared allergens like milk, followed by food testing positive for the bacterial pathogen Listeria. 

s: “My doctor told me I suffer from iron deficiency. I’d like to find a local source of iron — would that be possible?”

r: (Norman) Squirrel meat is high in iron and plentiful in these parts. (I passed five dead ones in the street today.) We can’t stock them due to USDA regulations, but you can forage for them. Considering what people look for in meat — no antibiotics or growth hormones, free-range, natural diet (acorns and berries) and affordability, squirrels make for a good choice. A 3.5 oz. serving of squirrel meat gets you 26 percent of the RDA for iron.