Suggestions: Burger King's Reusable Container Program Is Good News for Us

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.

Sounds like shoppers would like to email suggestions, so we’ve set up an email, Use this for product suggestions and general feedback. Keep in mind anything sent may end up in this column.

Burger King recently announced they’re starting a program with the aim of reducing trash, especially plastic trash, by offering customers the option of paying a deposit on reusable containers for drinks and the Whopper. The deposit is refunded when the containers are returned.

You might remember our Plastic Reduction Task Force, in cooperation with our Zero Waste Consultant Alisa Shargorodsky and our kitchen and other staff, were about to launch a similar system for some of our departments back in April, but our program got delayed due to COVID. Our system was going to be more extensive than Burger King’s, but it’s good to see this kind of thing happening on a large scale.

Burger King’s program is supposed to roll out sometime in 2021. It’ll be interesting to see what happens and if and when we can get back to rolling out our own program. COVID has wreaked havoc with some sustainability efforts. The good news is that it seems food and food contact surfaces are not considered significant contributors to the spread of the virus, so reusable containers could be ok. Our deposit system did have Montgomery County and Philly health department approval, because our commercial dishwashers are able to clean and sanitize the containers to the same standard restaurants have for tableware. We’ll take this up again once conditions are appropriate.

suggestions and responses:

s: “I had an idea I thought you might be interested in and I would LOVE! As you probably know, weekly meal prep kits are very popular. You order the week before (two or more dinners) all the ingredients come in a package, and directions are included. They are delivered to your door.

Some companies offer breakfast, lunch and snack ideas. You are still cooking but the planning and shopping is done for you. We use these kits (we love how they work) but hate the carbon footprint, especially all the packaging that’s included to manage the distance they travel. A friend in California shared they have this option available through a local company. I would love to suggest the Co-op offer this!

r: (Norman) Thanks for the suggestion. Meal kits are an interesting phenomenon in the food world, and some retailers have developed their own versions. I haven’t seen many industry reports on their success, although I have read of some issues like short shelf life and taking staff time away from Prepared Foods departments.

I think it would be great for the Co-op to envision a meal kit with local and healthy items in some kind of minimal and/or reusable packaging, but it’s not something we can devote staff time to anytime soon. We can probably take a closer look after the holidays. It may be we can figure out something useful, relatively simple and reasonably priced that could fulfill this kind of need for our shoppers.

FYI, here is an interesting article on the carbon footprint of meal kits (which I don’t necessarily agree with but worth a quick read if you’re interested):

s: “I heard about a no — sugar/high — protein ice cream. Can we look into getting some?”

r: (Matt, MA) I tasted one and I’d say it’s like ice cream in the same way that a Pomeranian in an outfit is a dog. All of the necessary components are technically there but arranged in a way that makes it truly awful. And then they add a bunch of unnecessary ingredients to it. “Functional” foods are on trend right now, but if you need 21 grams of protein from your ice cream, I think it’s time to reevaluate your diet. Trying it has made me sad and kind of makes me want to get real ice cream to lessen my pain.

(Norman) We’ve seen so many new protein-boosted foods the last few years, probably part of the interest in the ketogenic diet. Protein-boosted peanut butter, cookies, bread, granola, yogurt, chocolate bars, even potato chips. Whether these foods fit into your dietary goals is up to you, but as far as I’ve heard, protein deficiency in the United States is not a condition the medical community sees often.

s: We remain puzzled at the archaic use of “a .99” pricing on most Co-op items. Surely as members, we should insist on a “cost plus percentage” on items. This would be a fairer deal and properly reflect Co-op ideals. Why not instigate this on a trial basis?”

r: (Norman) You probably don’t really want to get me started on this, as I could write a chapter about it and pricing in general and the role of pricing in a consumer co-op. We, and most National Cooperative Grocer co-ops (and other retailers) have been encouraged to use “psychological pricing.” In reality, we start with “cost plus percentage” when figuring prices, and the percentage we choose to use varies with department, competition, labor, freight, etc. Then we use rounding rules based on psychological pricing to get to the final price.

With psychological pricing, there are “good” prices, like $3.69, and “bad” prices, like $3.72. To me, it’s all a stupid game with the goal of manipulating shoppers through less than transparent means, but this is where modern co-ops have landed.

In my perfect world, a price should reflect reality — the amount of energy expended in getting a product to the consumer, i.e., cost of production, packaging, storage, transportation, selling, etc., using fair and sustainable methods. In reality, competition and marketing play a huge role in pricing, hence we have things like promotional and psychological pricing, even though, from my perspective, this is lying to consumers about the true cost of an item.

There is a model of co-op pricing called direct charge, where products are priced at wholesale cost and the expenses of running the co-op are divided evenly among the members and paid as a monthly subscription. But that model never caught on. So we, and most co-ops and retailers, continue to use psychological pricing out of fear of losing shoppers to competitors. That’s another way to look at it —fear-based pricing.

s: “I have a recipe that calls for firm tofu but didn’t see it in Mt. Airy.”

r: (Norman) We do stock firm tofu in Mt. Airy. There is a shelf stable-one, Mori-Nu brand, on the lower shelves between the cheese case and refrigerated case with the other tofu (it’s also in Ambler). Nasoya Extra Firm tofu is in the refrigerated case and is also in our Chestnut Hill store.

s: “Thanks for sharing your knowledge, insights and attitudes about the new plant-based protein products. I’m going to take your suggestion to rely more on lentils. What do you think of that bulk product we sell called TVP (textured vegetable protein)? I like adding some to my oatmeal breakfast. I’m going to try lentils instead and see how that is. But please, what is your opinion of TVP?”

r: (Norman) TVP is made from defatted soy flour and is high in protein, low in fat and may or may not have some of the beneficial health aspects of whole soybeans. It’s also affordable.

I see a few issues. First, how processed is it? Some TVP is sourced from what’s left after making soybean oil. Depending on how the soybeans were grown and how the oil was extracted, what’s left can be result of a GMO crop and/or a toxic process like hexane extraction. TVP could also be result of a non-GMO crop (as are the versions in our bulk departments and from Bob’s Red Mill) and a less toxic oil extraction process like heating and mechanical pressing. Either way, the beneficial omega-3s present in full-fat soybeans will be missing. The impact of that depends on if you get omega-3s from other sources.

s: “I heard that rain is not as natural as it appears and actually manufactured in China and distributed worldwide with air currents artificially created by a facility in Dubai. How can organic produce be organic if this is true?”

r: (Norman) The USDA organic standard is pretty rigid, but when it comes to water, it has some fluidity (couldn’t resist). As long as the chlorine count is below residual levels of chlorine- treated water used for cleaning, there is not an issue for them. The question of whether rain should now be considered a Chinese import and subject to tariffs is beyond the scope of this column.