Suggestion Box: The Birds That Got Away

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.

Thanksgiving is over, but the grocery glow lingers. Thanksgiving means turkeys. Why this is so, it seems no one really knows for sure. Thanksgiving became a national holiday, declared by President Lincoln, in 1863. Supposedly the Pilgrims gathered “wild fowl” so they may have caught a wild turkey or two in 1621, but turkeys were nothing special, just one of the animals they hunted for food. This year, Weavers Way shoppers ordered 765 fresh turkeys, a drop in the bucket of the estimated 45 million that Americans purchase each Thanksgiving. 

In the grocery business, turkeys are a loss-leader, and at Weavers Way we do lose money on them, with all the extra staff time processing orders and the expense of renting a refrigerated trailer for each location to store the turkeys. 

For quite a few years, our main Thanksgiving fresh turkey supplier has been Esbenshade turkey farm in Ronks, Lancaster County, which claims to be the oldest turkey farm in the United States, started in 1858 and in the same family ever since. It turns out raising turkeys that have a little freedom to walk around and decide how much to eat is not an exact science. This year, Esbenshade was short an entire size range, 14-16 pounders. Some turkeys “didn’t eat enough,” Jim Esbenshade told me. Turkeys do have a reputation for being difficult, although Benjamin Franklin reportedly thought it was a “much more respectable bird” than the bald eagle, which he viewed as a disreputable scavenger. 

About 20 years ago, as vegetarianism became more popular, a number of companies came out with vegan “turkeys,” often concoctions of ingredients formed into something meant to resemble turkey meat in shape, texture and flavor, although not always all three. 

This is an illustration of the power of the turkey. Few people realize their gobbles carry higher-than-audible frequencies that cast a spell on humans, compelling them to sit around large tables with family and friends with a cooked turkey in the middle every fourth Thursday in November. Vegetarians and vegans are not immune to this force, which eventually expressed itself in the existence of turkey analogs. Such is the nature of capitalism, motivating creative entrepreneurs to invent and market products based on invisible forces.

On a non-turkey note, if you look around our Mt. Airy neighborhood, you may have noticed a bit of a development boom. The new condos on Carpenter Lane were the most immediate indication, and now there are five more developments proposed or under construction or recently completed: 6610 Germantown Ave., 6656 Germantown, Germantown and Mt. Pleasant avenues, Germantown and Hortter Street, 7048 Germantown and Mt. Pleasant and Emlen Street. 

All include housing, and some include some retail space. As the developers look for retail tenants, it looks like Weavers Way Mt. Airy may be getting some competition in the food business. You may have heard an Aldi’s was being planned for Germantown and Hortter. Aldi’s is reported to be planning to focus more on natural and organic foods, but still at the bargain-basement prices Aldi’s is known for. Aldi’s adjusting their focus is just one of many changes going on in retail food — think meal kits, automatic checkout, more made-to-order food, stores with fitness centers, cafés, beer gardens, plus online retailers and the likes of Amazon Fresh and the fact that Target, Walmart and Costco are moving more into natural and organic and even local. (Although it’s interesting that the way Amazon approached developing a Whole Foods local program was by creating the position of “Global Coordinator of Local Brands.”) 

Weavers Way has pretty much escaped meaningful quality competition, but that era could be ending. What is a food co-op’s role in the new food world? How should Weavers Way and other food co-ops adapt and evolve? Time to plan for the future. . . .

suggestions and responses:

s: “Can we get local coconuts?”

r: We are getting close. By combining technologies such as hydroponics and genetic engineering, scientists have “tricked” the coconut tree into thinking that inside old Philadelphia industrial buildings are a tropical climate with lots of water and sunshine. Corollary businesses will include tanning salons and swim-up bars.

s: “So I buy a lot of Stacey’s Simply Naked Pita Chips. The last package was simply crumbs.”

r: (Matt MA) Thanks for the feedback. We try not to beat up our snacks when we unpack them but I’ll make sure our staff are taking the appropriate measures to not smash chips.”

s: “Could you puleeeze slice your Cooper sharp cheese in thicker slices? I can never peel a whole piece off and wind up using the stack as ‘block’ cheese, cutting down on the whole stack."

r: (Shawn MA) We’re going to have some thicker sliced stocked in the cooler or behind the Deli counter.

s: “More Effie’s Oat & Cocoa cookies! Not corn. (Yecch!)”

r: Ask a Deli staffer if you don’t see them on the shelf. We try to keep all of them in stock.

s: “Can we please get a roasting index for Backyard Beans? Packages don’t have any info if it’s light roast vs. dark roast.”

r: (Norman) BB’s packages are inconsistent. All but Punch in the Face have the roast listed on the bottom of the label. Punch in the Face has it on the back. We’re told they’re doing a label redesign. 

s: “With everyone so dependent on their phones and iPads, could Weavers Way start a repair service? ”

r: (Norman) Good suggestion. I have extra incentive since my iPad started regularly reporting fake news regarding its battery life. It’s turned into an untrustworthy relationship, which is emotionally toxic for me but apparently has no consequence for the iPad. For two years, the battery meter faithfully reported the remaining charge. Then, despite my not changing the relationship in any way, always charging it when it reported it needed a charge and otherwise providing for its needs, it started telling me it was 100 percent charged after an hour of constant use — an obvious lie. Then it would report 20 percent and shut off. Apple added a battery meter utility, adding insult to injury, as now I have a graphical representation of all those lies. A more suspicious person might conclude the iPad was deliberately manipulating my feelings, but I learned long ago not to mistake incompetence for malice. Maybe it’s my fault for relying on an iPad for my happiness. 

In any event, device repair does seem like a consumer need, so maybe it’s something we could look into in the future as a service to our members.