Suggestions: Are We What We Buy at the Co-op?

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.

Here are some interesting sales quantities from the first two weeks of this September:

Barbara’s Cheese Puffs (Original 7 oz.)

  • Mt. Airy: 87
  • Chestnut Hill: 13
  • Ambler: 18

Fresh corn

  • Mt. Airy: 2,079 ears
  • Chestnut Hill: 1,475 ears
  • Ambler = 777 ears

Self-serve soup

  • Mt. Airy: 701 pints
  • Chestnut Hill: 561 pints
  • Ambler: 390 pints

Made-to-order sandwich

  • Mt. Airy = 0 (trick question, we don’t make sandwiches to order in Mt. Airy)
  • Chestnut Hill = 103
  • Ambler = 124

What are these number telling us about ourselves? Do Mt. Airy peeps have a taste for cheese puffs as a result of some outside phenomenon like Prius driving? Or could it be that Barbara’s are on the way to the cash registers, right at eye level? Do Hillers eat less corn on the cob or are they buying it somewhere else? (Looking at you, Maple Acres.) And why does Ambler, with 3,200 fewer shoppers per week than Chestnut Hill, sell more made-to-order sandwiches? Do people in Ambler have more time to wait for their sandwiches? Or could it be that they like to sit and eat them in the The Café?

What we do know both anecdotally and from sales data is that the same items sometimes sell at drastically different rates in each store. Whether this has to do with demographics, store and product layout, the role of the stores in people’s lives, or other factors, we don’t know. Getting the answers to these questions would require a bit of a data dive and maybe even customer surveys and focus groups. We do know Weavers Way has to adapt or perish as the world of retail food evolves.

suggestions and responses:

s: “I bought Organic Girl arugula; really inferior product! Yellow leaves 2 days after purchase & the sell-by date was days off. On the other hand, Blue Moon is excellent — fresher, better.

r: (Jean MA) Arugula is the most delicate of the baby salads, and thus the most likely to disappoint. Blue Moon’s product is excellent; it’s fresh and local.

s: “Do we have balsamic reduction?”

r: (Norman) We have a variety of balsamics in all of our vinegar sections, including some reduction types. Fans of balsamic vinegar should also check out the bulk balsamics in Mt. Airy and Ambler. There are three or four choices ranging from $4.59/lb. to $25.55/lb. It’s expensive, but our super-premium “Cask 25” from Modena, Italy, is aged a few years in selected wooden barrels, resulting in a thick, sweet, tangy vinegar (“with port and madeira undertones,” whatever that means). It’s worth a taste. Ask a bulk staffer for a sample.

s: “What’s this kombucha I saw called Cannabliss?”

r: (Norman) Those who were around for the oat-bran craze may recognize what seems to be happening with cannabidiol, or CBD, a non-psychoactive compound derived from hemp plants that many people think can aid with a variety of health issues. We sell a variety of CBD-infused products in all our stores. As was the case with oat bran (which was credited with near-miraculous cholesterol-busting powers), manufacturers are finding ways to put CBD in as many products as they can. Now GT’s, one of the first kombucha companies with national distribution, has come out with kombucha containing CBD. Expect to see CBD in coffee, juice, balms, vitamins, salad dressing, chocolate, ice cream, vegan cheese and who knows what all else. I remember when oat bran found its way into snack foods like corn chips and pretzels. They were awful. That was a lesson in how the industry works.

s: “Why do the peaches have splotty blotches”?

r: Splotty Blotch is a type of peach developed by the Agricultural Research Center at the Vatican that reminds people to judge things by how they are inside, not by their appearance. It’s sometimes used sacramentally to provide this messaging, plus some sweet drippy stickiness. Three Springs Fruit Farm, however, says the spots are just “cosmetic skin-deep marks from bacterial spot because of all the rain.”

s: “Honeycrisps are still the best apple so far this year.”

r: (Norman) The honeycrisp is a Weavers Way shopper favorite. It’s a cultivar developed at the University of Minnesota in 1974 that was patented in 1988 and released in 1991 — so not an heirloom variety. It has much larger cells than most apples, which rupture when bitten to fill the mouth with juice. The Keepsake, another apple developed by the University of Minnesota breeding program, is one of the parents of the Honeycrisp. The other was identified in 2017 as an unreleased University of Minnesota cultivar designated MN1627. The grandparents of Honeycrisp on the MN1627 side are the Duchess of Oldenburg and the Golden Delicious. Now Shuttle readers know apple cultivars have parents and Weavers Way shoppers will be able to find new lines or Mother’s and Father’s Day cards suitable for cultivarian parents.

s: “The cider is labelled ‘Weaver’s Orchard.’ This is misleading, implies it’s from Weavers Way Farm, which it isn’t.”

r: (Norman) Weaver’s Orchard is in Morgantown PA, and has been since 1932, so Weaver’s had the name before we did. They also distinguish themselves by being a single Weaver with an apostrophe “s” while we are plural Weavers. (Editor’s note: Tell that to people who write to us.)

However, lest people think Weavers Way is orchardless, our Henry Got Crops farm has an orchard planted by the Philadelphia Orchard Project that is one of the largest in the city. Fruits include plums, figs, paw-paws, cherries and Asian pears.

s: “Can you stock seltzer in glass?”

r: (Norman) We do stock Mountain Valley Sparkling water in glass bottles at all three stores.

s: “Whatever happened to eating insects? Wasn’t that going to be the next big thing like seven years ago?”

r: Yep, people thought because insects can be a healthy source of protein, fat and minerals, because they can be more sustainably grown and harvested than animal protein sources, and were relatively inexpensive, that many people would jump at the chance to eat them. We even stocked a few insect food items. They never sold in Mt. Airy, but Chestnut Hill shoppers did buy them for a bit. (Editor’s note: Go figure.) Our then-general manager thought we should have them in bulk and at the salad bar. Even the United Nations was recommending them. For whatever reason, insects have yet to become a staple of North American and European diets. Maybe it will take McDonald’s to come up with a new mascot like Ronald McInsect.

s: Why do so many products at Weavers Way contain canola oil? Isn’t it supposed to be bad for you?

r: Canola oil is one of the few foods I’ve come across where there seems to be such a large divide between people who think it’s healthy and people who think it’s not. We have a number of vocal members, mostly shoppers at our Ambler store, who have expressed concern that so many of our products contain canola, which they think is one of the unhealthy oils. We use canola oil in our kitchens, and many manufacturers use it, too. It’s probably in hundreds of our Prepared Food items, and in thousands of packaged products.

For your information, our kitchens mainly use either organic or a local non-GMO canola oil, and both are mechanically extracted, as opposed to solvent extracted.

One online resource I sometimes consult for issues like this, the Berkeley Wellness site (, claims canola oil can be beneficial for heart health and is also high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), with some benefits similar to fish oil. On the flip side, Dr. Mercola ( thinks canola oil has been proven to be detrimental to body and mind. This is based partly on a study right here at Temple University, where rats bred to be prone to Alzheimer’s disease symptoms were fed lots of canola oil and showed memory deficiencies compared to the control group. As a result of this study, Dr. Mercola’s site states: “Canola Oil Proven to Destroy Your Body and Mind.” (If you search around other sites, you’ll see assertions that the study does not prove anything since the changes were very small and there is no clear relationship between the study results and how canola acts in human brains. Plus some scientists think the study itself was flawed.)

Given what I’ve read so far, from a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, I’m not seeing a reason to avoid non-GMO, non-solvent-extracted canola oil.

s: “Can canola oil calm nerves? I get anxious sometimes, especially when other people are watching me.”

r: You may have publickawarcitus, related to stage fright. Canola oil may help. Like all oils, it has lubricative properties that smooth surfaces and reduce friction. Publickawarcitus is a result of your brain feeling pressure from other people’s attention and expectations. This pressure can increase brain friction, which canola can smooth out. Engaging in conversations about whether or not canola oil is healthy results in people doing research and having informed conversations and then agreeing to disagree, which is a low-friction approach to interpersonal relations.