Suggestions: Turkey Trends and Valuable Voting

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.

November in the United States means paying attention to Thanksgiving, which usually means shared meals with family and friends, and the centerpiece of most of those meals is a turkey. Weavers Way shoppers account for about 900 of the about 46 million turkeys consumed in this country over the last couple of years.

I’m guessing the number (and size) of turkeys will decrease as more people include more plant-based food in their Thanksgiving celebrations. We saw increases in the Field Roast and Tofurky products sold this year, which leaves me wondering about the future of turkey producers. If this trend continues, and especially if it accelerates, what choices will they have? Can turkey producers switch to growing peas for pea protein, which seems to be one of the main crops powering the plant-based faux-meat trend?

When you have generations of old family turkey businesses like Esbenshade in Lancaster County, and a long-term significant customer like the Co-op supporting them, what is our role? Should the turkey business continue to change to the point where it gets less sustainable financially for the small local farmers we support? Should we employ a sink-or-swim strict capitalist approach or something more supportive and cooperative, in which we help producers to adapt? Something to think about.

Speaking of Thanksgiving turkeys, in a new and innovative move, (“innovative” in that it’s never been done before, not that it’s necessarily valuable), Whole Foods partnered with Progressive Insurance to offer insurance on turkeys sold by Whole Foods. If you botched the cooking of your turkey, you can file a claim and possibly receive a $35 gift card, if the Whole Foods turkey insurance judges find in your favor.

I’m guessing my maternal grandmother successfully cooked over 60 large turkeys in her life. She probably learned how to cook them from her mother, who probably learned from her mother, etc. The prospect of having insurance for a “turkey failure” would likely not compute in her mind; it would seem as ridiculous as having insurance in case you failed to get the laundry clean or the floor vacuumed. However, in the competitive Thanksgiving food marketplace, marketing gimmicks are deemed valuable, hence turkey insurance. Since the Co-op has to compete in this market, for next year, we are already shopping for an underwriter to offer our shoppers soufflé failure insurance.

In other news, there’s been a lot of talk about voting recently. In a cooperative, voting is central to existence because there is no co-op without voting. During the early days of Weavers Way, I saw a lot of voting going on: “big” voting, with long-lasting effects like approving bylaws; “medium” voting, like electing board members and “small” routine voting, like approving minutes and minor expenditures. Sometimes the small staff (eight people or so) would vote on operational things like whether to stock milk or not (for operational, not ethical or nutrition reasons). A few voting-worthy issues surfaced at least once a week.

Membership-wise, voting in co-ops is typically by household, so it’s not like every person has their own vote. It’s more of a communal group or family vote, an interesting voting type in and of itself. Co-ops practice what is sometimes referred to as economic democracy — shifting decision-making from corporate managers and shareholders to a larger group of public stakeholders that includes workers, customers, suppliers, neighbors and the broader public. In such organizations, voting, which can seem pretty diluted from the individual’s perspective, is still a powerful force. It is part of what defines a co-op, and is valuable to the community it serves.

suggestions and responses:

s: “This year’s CSA share was fabulous — I’ve never eaten better food! Thanks to all the people that make it happen!”

r: (Norman) Thanks; I’ll pass on your comment to the Farm Team.

s: “Silk shelf-stable cashew milk.”

r: (Matt, MA) We’ll check it out; thanks.

s: “Oatly Creamer.”

r: (Matt, MA) We’ll check this one out too, although refrigerated space is tight. Thanks.

s: “Reaching over someone else’s head is not ok; it means they are too close!”

r: (Norman) Height has advantages. It’s part of natural selection; tall people could get food higher up on trees. Many evolutionary hunter/gatherer/foraging adaptations apply to grocery store shopping — the ability to reach, grasp, see shapes and colors, recognize smells, find bargains, etc. Unfortunately, it seems social distancing in our Mt. Airy store is difficult for some people. We are so used to crowding and bumping into each other it takes more of a conscious effort to distance and counteract our old habits of cramming together comfortably.

s: “Love the Miyoko’s products, especially the butter!”

r: (Norman) Thanks for the feedback!

s: “So what’s up with Chestnut Hill? The double points of entry and exit are baffling. I feel like Mt. Airy has it down — one point of entry, one exit. The parking lot is a thing at Chestnut Hill, I get it, but you have to walk the distance of the store anyway to get back there (from the register) so why not do it outside? The exit after the register being closed (a natural exit, after the register and all) seems to make no sense. People just salmon back through the store, getting all up in everyone’s biz. I entered at the produce store and exited through it as well last time I was there and it was uncomfortable, to say the least. I feel like there’s an easy solve for better flow. Thanks!”

r: (Val CH) I agree with you; the flow we have right now is not ideal. I get emails and suggestions about this almost daily. There is not one scenario that is ideal. No matter which way you slice it and which doors we open/close, it causes a big inconvenience to shoppers.

Taking this into consideration, we have chosen to go a completely different route altogether; we’re installing a camera-based monitoring system. It will follow a red light/green light scenario which will allow us to open all doors at all times. This should allow the flow in the store to return to somewhat normal conditions and cause fewer traffic jams. Thank you for reaching out to us — we always love to hear from our members.

s: “Any possibility of stocking McCutcheon’s Spicy Chesapeake Seafood Sauce? We have some other McCutcheon’s products. We love it and can’t find anyplace around here that has it. Thanks.”

r: (Norman) We can check into it. I’m not sure McCutcheon’s is wholesaling all their products right now, but we can ask, then see if our grocery managers are up for stocking it. Thanks for the suggestion.

s: “Norman, you must remember when we had Frozen Goat custards — you are certainly old enough! Will we have them ever again?” An Old Hippie.

r: (Norman) OMG, I remember an ice cream called Honey Goat, made with goat’s milk. I used to buy it at an ice cream shop at Penn Street and Germantown Avenue; this was like 1973. There was a natural food store and a flower shop across the street; I think a guy named Stan owned all three shops. The natural food store may have been called the “Germantown General Store” and offered bulk grains and nuts; the displays were metal trash cans.

Hippies not only gave us Woodstock (proving large numbers of people could congregate and get along), they also gave us natural foods. Early organic produce was not great. In fact, it was sometimes downright horrible —misshapen, bug infested — it’s amazing it survived.

We sold Honey Goat at Weavers Way for a while; I forget what happened to the company. Germantown had a lot of hippies in those days. They were attracted to the cheap housing, public transportation, shops like the general store and the overall vibe.

I’m curious if anyone reading this remembers the Germantown of the ‘70s, especially Stan’s shops and the four co-ops besides Weavers Way. They included one at Summit Church (which our Co-op grew out of), Germantown People’s Co-op at Greene & Tulpehocken, Germantown Ecology Co-op (which started on Wayne Avenue, then moved to Germantown Avenue) and one whose name I forget at Calvary Church. Drop us a line with any memories.