Letters to editor, August 2002 | PCC Sound Consumer | PCC Natural Markets

Letters to editor
Sound Consumer | August 2002

Letters must be kept to 250 words or less and include a name, address and daytime phone number for verification or they cannot be published. We reserve the right to edit for space, clarity and accuracy. Please e-mail letters to editor@pccnaturalmarkets.com.

A better tomato

Thank you for the recent article in the Sound Consumer about Rent's Due Ranch. I've purchased their vegetable starts at PCC West Seattle both this year and last, and the plants are wonderful! Last year, I was the only person I knew who had ripe tomatoes at the end of the summer. (Everyone else's were still green.) I'm sure it's because Rent's Due grows healthy, organic plants that are acclimated to our area. The tomato plants grown in a greenhouse in California just can't compare! I also love the variety of lettuce plants and herbs.
— Karin Edenholm

Thanks for the watchdog

Goldie — bravo for your articles in (July's) PCC newsletter! Very good articles, which reflect the excellent watchdog work you are doing. We all appreciate your much-needed efforts.
—Thom De Buys

What are Splenda and Quorn?

Does anybody know anything more about "Splenda" than is given on the Hansen Diet Soda label "Sucralose?"

Similarly, Quorn's "mycoprotein" "comes from a simple mushroom," but doesn't even say which one.

Because these products aren't organic, labeling is not required to state whether ingredients are genetically modified or produced by other synthetic methods. Since PCC encourages members to trust that it's looking out for our interests with clear information, would it be possible to post such information about these products?
— Olemara Peters

Editor: We've received a number of calls and letters about Splenda and Quorn. They're both what may be called "manufactured" foods; some would say "artificial." Nonetheless, Quorn was brought in on request from several members. Rather than short-change any answer to your questions here, we'll devote space next month to these two products and the issues they present.

Product guidelines

This is in response to the "No Food Police" last month and because I have been concerned about what items are stocked on PCC shelves. What are the criteria for items that are stocked on the shelves: organic ingredients and freedom of artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives? What else earns a product precious shelf space?

Some new products have questionable ingredients. The Issaquah store carries Diet Hansen's sodas that contain Sucralose (trade name Splenda). If you have any doubts about the safety of this product, see the Sucralose Toxicity Information Center at www. holisticmed.com/splenda/. After The Fall natural "diet" sodas, a low-calorie alternative, used to be found at the Kirkland store.

Numerous products with hydrogenated oils are being stocked (Tofutti sliced cheese, for example) when other alternative cheeses are already on the shelf. Hydrogenated fats (trans-fatty acids) are known to raise LDL (bad cholesterol) and lower HDL (good cholesterol). We are each responsible for our own health, but there must be better choices available.

In addition to questionable ingredients, an alternative product is being discontinued while a mainstream item remains in stock. At Greenlake, the Rice Dream frozen desserts are being discontinued while the Ben and Jerry's ice creams remain in the freezer.

Ideally, I would prepare all of my entrées and meals from scratch. This is not feasible. Besides the grocery items, I have also been disappointed that it is very difficult to find deli-made items with whole-grains. Sandwiches and pasta dishes are rarely made with whole-wheat breads and pastas, or even whole-grain wheat free (for the wheat intolerant).

It has been quite some time since I inquired about the lack of 100 percent whole-grain deli products (mainly at the Issaquah location). The answers were always the same, low sales or the anticipation of low sales. Another response is that non-wheat or whole-wheat products (in the deli) are difficult to work with. How about a PCC sponsored recipe contest using some of the whole-grain and wheat-free alternative products or sampling of these items?

Personally, I do not consider PCC the "Food Police" but rather a "Gate Keeper," stocking items that do not have known unhealthy ingredients. PCC should be a place where there are alternatives to the mainstream products, which are generally highly processed, much refined, and less likely to be produced with the environment in mind. If I want Ben and Jerry's, TSP Cheerios, hydrogenated fats, or artificial sweeteners, I can go to any general grocery store.

It is not my desire that only products that meet my strict standards will be stocked and prepared at PCC. Nor do I want to imply that there are not any products stocked at PCC that meet my criteria. To name a few delicious items: vegetarian and whole-grain sandwiches made by various local vendors, Artizen's whole-wheat ravioli, Annie's whole-wheat mac & cheese, Touchstone pies, and many deli dishes. My hope is that alternatives to some of the products taking up shelf space will be given consideration and priority, despite lower sales. If not, what purpose is a "Natural Market"?
— Tamara DeHate

Tracy Wolpert, Chief Executive Officer, replies: Tamara, your letter, like the one before it from Olemara, raises issues and concerns that are at the heart of why we exist as a natural foods co-op. Your point about PCC being a "Gate Keeper" rather than the "Food Police" is well stated.

We primarily stock alternatives to mainstream products and are committed to these alternatives, even though they do generate lower sales. We are doing what you ask in this regard. Almost all our grocery (dry) products generate "movement" or "turns" that are significantly less or lower than products in conventional stores.

Our focus is on natural foods. If our desire was strictly for "turns" or sales, we'd sell only conventional grocery products and perishables — produce, dairy, seafood/meat, and bakery/deli items. However, if we have five brands of tofu and two are selling more slowly than the rest, we look at that and sometimes have to make decisions on shelf space to keep us sustainable as a business, especially when mainline retailers are selling more and more of the items we carry.

In order to retain volume in sales and remain competitive when surrounded by stores with greater buying power and lower expense structures (including Whole Foods, which is non-union), we strive for a selection of products that will help us become a primary food store for more members. If members are going to buy Cheerios or Ben and Jerry's anyway, because they don't like the alternatives, we'd rather they buy it at our store (if it meets our standards) than at a competitor. Other natural food co-ops sell Coca-Colaª and many other conventional products. We don't.

Tofutti slices do contain partly hydrogenated oils, but were brought in at the request of vegan customers who feel its "meltability" is superior to other vegan cheese alternatives.

Also, many times, our buyers have pushed questions such as yours back to the manufacturers, requesting they reformulate with healthier ingredients. Our grocery buyers recently asked Thomas Kemper to reformulate its sodas with more natural ingredients. It hasn't, and many flavors are being dropped. Our deli department asked a pie company to switch from using hydrogenated shortening to organic Spectrum shortening. Our deli also is now asking the Joyva halvah company to swap its partly hydrogenated oils with something healthier.

We are not insensitive to the concerns you raise and we'll continue to commit shelf space to alternatives, despite lower sales potential, because of who we are and what we stand for. We advocate the consumer's right to know about our food and the right to an informed choice.