By: David Lester, General Manager
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the recent Hobby Lobby case that requiring certain employers to pay for contraceptives they oppose on religious grounds violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. After this recent decision, other companies have begun following suit. One of these companies is Eden Foods, an industry leader in organically-grown canned products and other organic foods.
Eden Foods, a Michigan based company, has filed a suit in a lower federal court to opt out of including contraceptives in their employee health care plan based on religious beliefs. It was an interesting company decision based on the fact that they are selling their products in grocery stores, co-ops and other natural food stores whose customers are more passionate about a company’s business practices. The management team and I have discussed how to handle issues like this one, and we feel like we have a very thorough and concise Merchandising Policy that helps us decide what types of products to carry in our store. This policy is driven by our organizational ends and tries to focus our buyers’ attention to the quality of the ingredients of those products. I have talked with a handful of customers in the store and by email on this issue and I’ve included the core of this conversation below:
Despite Eden Foods’ political and religious beliefs on contraception, they are leaders when it comes to organically canned foods. They were industry leaders when it came to creating a BPA-free canning process that did not leach harmful chemicals into the canned food. Their commitment to organics and the variety of organic products are favorites with many of our customers. Even though my personal feelings about this company do not match theirs, I have to realize also that we have several members who probably agree with the Eden Foods’ case. We have become a very large organization from our first days as a Co-op and it is this diversity and commitment to providing the best quality foods that we value and celebrate. Eden Foods is not the only company on our shelves that has made political statements outside food-related topics/issues. We have a very strict Merchandising Policy that selects products based on the quality of their ingredients with a heavy emphasis on organics. Fair wages paid to a company’s employees and safe working conditions are other qualities we look at when selecting products. If a product that we carry was to suddenly change their recipe to include GMOs or other ingredients that do not meet our merchandising policy, then we would have serious doubts about carrying this product. I hope this clarifies our decision and reasoning behind why we will continue to carry the Eden Foods line of products. We realize that some customers will choose to not buy them. We know that decision is their personal one and we respect that decision. I have always tried to vote with my dollars and I have no doubt that some of our members will do the same. If the decline in Eden Foods’ sales warrants replacing their product with another brand, then our buyers will do their best to find a new product. Unfortunately, when it comes to high-quality, organically grown goods in BPA-free cans we can trust with an extensive variety, the options are very limited.
Feel free to call or talk with me in the store about this issue if you would like. I value all of the conversations with members and it is through these conversations that we become more informed and able to better serve our membership.