Ignorance is Blistering

nonGMO saltI recently came across this product and was incredibly relieved to finally find a salt that hasn’t been genetically modified (although, the “pinkness” of this salt makes me wonder if it has been spliced with the genes of salmon)!

This would be funny if this product label were a spoof, but it is real.

There are people in the world who are ignorant, and unfortunately some exist within our industry.  Ignorance often leads to fear- and sometimes fear leads to irrational hysteria.  If you think this example of salt is extreme, it isn’t. There are many products now that are unnecessarily labeled as “non-GMO.”

An informed person would know that only corn, soy, canola, sugar beets, zucchini and yellow squash, alfalfa, and papaya are grown in the US as GMO.  [Add to that list cotton, btw- how many of you are most definitely wearing non-organic GMO cotton right now- and supporting an industry that does more environmental destruction than any farmed edible plant?]

Yet, we are now seeing consumers demand that products that couldn’t possibly be GMO are tested and labeled as non-GMO.  Manufacturers are pandering to this and slapping the non-GMO label on everything from lentil pasta to cranberry juice to seaweed.  And rather than work to educate consumers on this issue, retailers are demanding that manufacturers of certified organic products also get labeled as non-GMO, even though they know that certified organic = certified GMO-free.  And frankly, I’m surprised that the non-GMO Project verified this salt at all (let alone other products that couldn’t possibly be GMO).

This unnecessary labeling is creating consumer confusion and helping to fan the flames of hysteria.

Take, for example, this not-very-unusual email I received from a customer recently.  He believes that organic products cannot be trusted and that GMO-free is top priority, even though GMO-free products can be grown with a plethora of toxic chemicals and organic products are already GMO-free:

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“I buy the following bulk grains from your store:

1. Organic rolled Oats
2. Organic steel-cut Oats
3. Organic Amaranth
4. Organic Quinoa
5. Organic Mung(Moong) beans
6. Organic Black-eyed peas

Can you email me contact details of Manufacturers of above please?

I will directly contact them to get verified by NON-GMO project.
Please see the website: http://www.nongmoproject.org/

They have a verification process and they have verified more than 15,000 products as NON-GMO.

There is a US law which prohibits GMO content in USDA Organic labeled products. But it is very naive to assume that this law is strictly followed for following reasons:

1. Politicians are bought by election campaign contributions and they keep USDA and FDA under-funded.

2. Because of #1, FDA can not conduct frequent enough inspections to enforce the law. In fact, some organic movement proponents think that USDA do not verify NON-GMO content for Organic products.

3. There is a revolving door between USDA, FDA and GMO businesses like Monsanto. There are definitely conflicts of interest.

4. Big companies are buying out purely organic businesses. Most of these companies have been doing GMO food business for a long time.

For example, Dean Foods has a very bad reputation for using GMO sourced seeds etc.

Earthbound Farm Organic was a very good organic business. They started in earnest and maintained good standards for a long time. They sold out to Whitewave for $600 million in December 2013. Whitewave is a spin-off of Dean Foods. Now I can not trust Earthbound Farm Organic products.

Scott, for above-mentioned reasons it makes perfect sense to use NON-GMO project verified products.

I am paying top dollars for Organic products and I want verified NON-GMO products.

Your business will lose money if you do not stock enough NON-GMO products.”

Untitled-3First of all, of the bulk items this customer is concerned about, NONE of them exist as GMOs.

Secondly, if we strive to be fair, people are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

This statement is worrisome: “Earthbound Farm Organic was a very good organic business. They started in earnest and maintained good standards for a long time. They sold out to Whitewave for $600 million in December 2013. Whitewave is a spin-off of Dean Foods. Now I can not trust Earthbound Farm Organic products.”  If guilt by association were enough to convict someone of a crime, I’ll bet most of us would be in prison.

Sure, some companies have proven themselves as unethical- and as a result, cannot be trusted.  If you don’t want your shopping dollars supporting Dean, then by all means buy Olivia’s salads instead of Earthbound.  But, can we really assume that Earthbound Farms is now breaking laws and packing chemical-laden and GMO lettuces (GMO lettuce doesn’t exist, btw) simply because their parent company is looking to profit from the organic industry?  I see such tactics and misinformation all the time from fringe groups within our industry.

The science of gene splicing is being terribly misused by large agribusinesses such as Monsanto.  At MOM’s we have been demanding for years now that new products which have the potential to be GMOs be verified as non-GMO.

We are most dedicated to organic farming practices.  If a manufacturer’s product is certified organic, it gets top priority from us, so we have been phasing out many natural products when there are organic alternatives (in case you’re wondering where the Fage Greek yogurt went!).  Organic products get placed prominently on end caps and generally promoted with more shelf space and promotions. MOM’s realizes that certified organic products are far superior to non-organic, GMO-free products.  Rather than appease the lowest common denominator which demands GMO-free labeling for products that couldn’t possibly be GMO, we work to educate consumers that an organic product is a non-GMO product, but without the chemicals.

Posted in food, GMOs, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Minimum Dignity

One of the companies I admire most is Costco.  They’re not very environmental, unfortunately, but they are extremely dedicated to their employees.  Back in 2008 when the economy was in a downward spiral, Founder and CEO Jim Sinegal said that instead of looking for ways to cut costs and reduce compensation like most companies were doing, it was especially important to find ways of supporting their staff in this time of hardship.  He said, “our employees… deserve our loyalty.  They needed it just as much [in 2008] as they ever did, or more.”  Costco’s average pay rate is $21 per hour, while BJ’s average is $11 and Sam’s Club’s $12.  However, Costco is the performance leader in the club membership retail sector.

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MOM’s Employees touring a recycling facility

Here at MOM’s, we’ve never paid minimum wage.  In June of 2011, MOM’s raised our minimum wage from $9 per hour to $10.  This month, we will raise it to $11 per hour.

This is not an act of charity, but rather an investment. Without a doubt, our most valuable asset here at MOM’s is our people.  Paying them more is a smart business strategy.  Any good businessman knows there is no higher ROI (return on investment) than investing in people.  Great people are more efficient, have good ideas, and have good judgment.  Customers love shopping at places with good employees.  I’d rather have 1 great than 3 decent employees.

Raising the minimum wage would also raise the “status” of retail jobs, making them more viable as a career choice rather than short-term or a necessity.  But raising the minimum wage is the right thing to do for so many other reasons:

  • There is the issue of fairness.  A parent with 2 kids who works full time at the minimum wage lives below the poverty line.  For all of the complaining people do about those who don’t pull their own weight, it is hypocritical of such people to oppose raising full time workers above the poverty line.
  • Similar to a child who struggles in school because he has a tough home life, I believe that when people are stressed in their personal lives, it negatively impacts their work performance.  Raising the minimum wage will improve worker performance unilaterally, as basic needs are met.
  • The existing minimum wage leads to corporate welfare.  Large retailers like Walmart and McDonald’s pay minimum wage.  Many of their employees, even though they’re working full time, are on government assistance programs.  Basically, the entitlement programs that people complain so much about subsidize the low-paid employees of large corporations.  If you want to shrink the government, make the corporations pay a fair wage.  For example, raising the minimum wage to $10.10 will reduce between 3.3 and 3.8 million people from enrolling in the tax payer funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  Other public programs such as Medicaid, EITC, and TANF would be similarly affected.
  • Paying the low and lower-middle class a higher wage will immediately help the economy.  If you give more money to rich people, they’re not going to spend it.  They’ll horde it.  When money lands in the hands of minimum wage earners, consumption immediately increases.  As they say, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
  • I read a great quote recently from a CEO of a company- “For CEOs to take credit for job creation is like a squirrel taking credit for evolution.”  I won’t hire anyone unless people buy our product.  The consumer is solely responsible for job creation.  Contrary to what many CEOs in opposition are claiming, raising the minimum wage will actually create jobs, not cut them.

$11 an hour is just the next step for us here at MOM’s- and as we continue to improve our workforce, we will continue to raise wages even higher.

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine perfectly outlines the case for raising the minimum wage (and at 2:56, mentions MOM’s!).

When I started MOM’s almost 27 years ago, I used to think that I could do everything the best and that the handful of employees I had were there to simply take instructions and do what I say.  This past decade or so, I’ve come realize that not only was I wrong about that, but that I play a rather insignificant part in MOM’s success.

The people here at MOM’s have accomplished great things.  They’re smart, dedicated, and they move MOM’s forward, helping to accomplish our Purpose to protect and restore the environment.  They have taught me to have great faith in people and to understand their value.

Posted in business, MOM's Organic Market | Tagged , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Save the Dandelions

Screen Shot 2014-03-10 at 10.14.38 AMSociety evolves, albeit sometimes slowly.  I am 49 years old.  There are things happening now that I would not have predicted when I was young.  Aside from the fact that gasoline is unleaded, DDT is banned, and there is more truth in advertising (cigarettes were once advertised as being good for us), we have a black President.  Gays can marry.  Whole Foods and Tesla are darlings of Wall Street.  When I fly towards the west or go hiking in Maine, I see huge wind farms.  Healthcare is finally available to all.

At the beginning of all of these movements are a select few of deemed “radicals,” people with courage and foresight to challenge the status quo.  I feel like I’ve been surrounded by such people my entire life.  My parents thought rather radically and associated with like-minded people.

I’ve been sensing an upswell of radical opposition to, of all things, lawns.  I blogged about the topic a couple of years ago here and here.

When hurricane Isabel roared through the DC region back in 2003, over a dozen large trees fell in my wooded yard.  The lot was already somewhat of a mess with invasive English ivy smothering everything.  The previous owners planted bramble everywhere.

I had a minuscule lawn and 2 kids with 1 on the way.  I decided it was time to clear it all out (leaving the existing trees) and put down grass seed to hold the ground.  In the spring we spread seed and hay and I naively called a lawn care company to get my lawn started.  I signed a contract for a year’s service.  Sometime in June, after a few “applications” and some rainfall, I walked out onto my patio and slipped and fell.  There was algae growing everywhere.  My grass was turning dark green.

Blog_lawn_water1I realized then that I’d been paying for a plethora of unneeded chemical applications that were hurting the environment.  I never put anything on my lawn ever again, and I started to take notice of the industry and our assumptions about lawns in general.  I cringe when I see those little signs on yards telling us that’s Blog_lawn_chemicals2chemicals have been applied.

Maybe lawns are important to so many because they’re seen as status symbols, similar to what Blog_lawn_Europ1seems like other affluent suburban anxieties over who drives the most luxurious car, who lives in the biggest house, where our kids go to college, what top sports league our kids play in, even what fancy breed of dog we walk.  Regardless, the world would be better off if certain industries were to go bankrupt.  I’m Blog_lawn_Scrutiny1adding lawn care to that list.

MOM’s is taking action this month as we launch our Save the Dandelions campaign to educate people about the impact of chemical lawns.  From March 15-23, we will collect any unwanted lawn chemicals from customers and safely Blog_lawn_car1dispose of them; we will be educating our customers about the negative environmental impacts of lawn chemicals; and we will launch an advertising campaign to shift public perception towards embracing imperfect, natural yards.  Save the Dandelions!

Posted in environment, home, Lawn, water | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Why is Walmart so expensive?

kicking-the-can-down-the-roadIn my eternal scan of the Internet for MOM’s data and feedback, I came across this blogger’s post: Why is MOM’s Organic Market so expensive?  I hear this question in one form or another all the time.  If you read reviews of MOM’s on Yelp, Google, etc., there is always someone who gives us a low rating because we’re “too expensive.”  For example, “The staff is very friendly and helpful, but the prices are a little high,” and “If you’re into paying high prices for their so-called organic food, then come here. It’s been proven that organic foods are not as healthy as regular food, cannot be proven to be organic, and they don’t taste better. So convince yourself in believing in the organic hype and shop here.  My rating would be lower except they do have a lot of produce, even if it’s overpriced hype.”

MOM’s has a price guarantee, which states that on all same-branded packaged products, we will cost the same or less than Whole Foods and other natural foods stores.  A couple of years ago, Consumer Checkbook did a 3rd party survey of our prices and found us to be 7% less than Whole Foods and 4% less than Wegman’s.  Our own internal data now even shows us to be approximately 10% less than Whole Foods.  So I believe that when people say that we are expensive, for the most part they’re saying that organic foods are expensive, not MOM’s in particular (or they’re misinformed, because sometimes they do claim we’re more expensive than Whole Foods or Wegman’s).

Rather than ask why is MOM’s expensive, I think we should ask why are Walmart, Safeway, etc. so expensive?

Take for example, a headline that came across my computer last week:

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I realize that the 2 chemicals banned aren’t used specifically for food production (they’re being used to control mosquitoes), but it’s one example of the many hidden costs of what are assumed to be “solutions” to problems.

A friend of mine drove the Eastern Shore last weekend touring the local oyster farming industry.  He ran into some poultry farmers while he was down there, and they are up in arms over the new proposed Poultry Fair Share Act, which will charge tax to large chicken suppliers of 5 cents per chicken.  The tax will be paid to the Bay Restoration Fund and used to fund cover crop programs on lands where chicken manure was applied, i.e. to clean up the havoc that the poultry industry constantly wreaks on the Chesapeake’s ecosystem.  Since the industry won’t spend the money to clean up after its own mess, the government is forced to step in and do it for them.

Using chemicals to grow non-organic food hastens climate change.  The carbon footprint of fertilizer production and delivery is substantial, estimated at over 1,200 million metric tons per year in the US alone.  As weather patterns become more severe and unexpected (hurricanes, droughts, flooding), there is a large cost in many categories, including crop losses and infrastructure damage.

Pesticides, herbicides, hormones, and antibiotics are currently used on 99% of American farmland.  These chemicals contaminate our waterways, often impacting other industries (like crabs and oysters here in the Chesapeake).  Inevitably, environmental groups, other industries, and taxpayers are left holding the bill to clean up the mess.

Entire species can become threatened, as has recently happened with honeybee and Monarch Butterfly populations. Honeybee CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) is thought to be linked to the traces of pesticides in high-fructose corn syrup.  Sharp decreases in Monarch Butterfly populations are being linked to GMOs.  This has cost the honey industry and farmers billions of dollars in loss production due to pollination deficiencies.

Along with the decades of increases in carcinogenic chemical residues in our food, cancer rates have  increased.  Not only does this lead to human suffering, but the medical costs make insurance rates higher for us all.

Conventional foods often have high-calorie, nutrient-deficient ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup and white flour.  Obesity rates have risen dramatically from 13% to 35% since 1960, which leads to more cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.  The estimated costs to the healthcare system of these ailments are $190 billion annually.

The conventional industry receives massive amounts of government subsidies (corporate welfare) while the organic industry receives virtually nothing.  The new Farm Bill allots taxpayers to pay out $956 billion over the next ten years to highly profitable agribusiness such as Tyson, Monsanto, and Cargill.  We taxpayers are subsidizing them to do the wrong thing.

Corporate America will forever work its hardest to keep Big Government off their backs, but who’s going to keep Big Corporations off our backs?  It would be nice if the free market would fix this- and if average consumers were informed enough to consider the hidden costs of products and shop accordingly.  But this isn’t going to happen any time soon, if ever (especially considering the constant bombardment of misinformation put out by large corporations).

The burden to society caused by conventional farming is constantly deferred to other industries, citizens, taxpayers, and non-profits.  The lower price of conventional foods reflects these deferred hidden costs.  Those who buy conventional foods over organics because they’re cheaper, selfishly do so- happy to kick the can down the road to those of us who keep informed, continue to recognize hidden costs, and keep doing the next right thing.

Posted in environment, food, GMOs, MOM's Organic Market, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Selling In

I see headlines like this all the time, carrying news that another independently owned and operated organic company has either sold to a private equity (PE)  investment group (think Bain Capital) or to a large corporation like Campbell Soup (in this case, Plum Organics has done both- private equity in 2010 and Campbell Soup in 2013).

Sustainable Food NewsPrivate equity firm to sell No. 2 organic baby food brand to multinational

Campbell Soup spent $600,000 to fight GE food labeling efforts, now buys Plum Organics seeking to ‘shift center of gravity.’
 

About 2 weeks ago, Earthbound Farm was purchased by White Wave, which is owned by Dean Foods.

Independently-owned companies are becoming fewer, and stick out among the crowd. The only large company in the natural foods industry that is still independently owned that I can think of is Trader Joe’s (around $8 billion, and I barely consider them a member of the natural foods industry, let alone the organic industry).  The founders (the Albrecht family) also own conventional discount grocer Aldi’s.  I get the feeling that the smaller, independent, family-owned companies have the ultimate goal of cashing in and are just waiting to get big enough.  This seems to be the trend.

I was at the Organic Trade Association’s annual gala in September (I am an OTA board member). Each year, we give awards to industry pioneers.  This year’s winners included Arran and Ratana Stephens, who founded Nature’s Path.  Arran specifically said (before launching into song, btw!), “to my friends in the investment community, we are not for sale and we never will be.”  He was asked who he admires in the industry.  He paused and said, “Most of the people whom I’ve admired have sold out, sometimes much to their own regret.”  This really stood out to me, as Nature’s Path is now a $100 million company. The Stephens would get a lot of money if they sold.

In the retail sector, there is a well-run substantial co-op chain ($250M in annual sales) on the west coast called PCC Markets.  Being a co-op, they are obviously not owned by a private-equity group or a big corporation, but they’re not really independently owned either.  I think Jimbo’s on the west coast is still owned by Jimbo, so there’s one.

Whole Foods, Earth Fare, Sunflower Farmers Markets, Sprouts, Natural Grocers/Vitamin Cottage, Mrs. Green’s- none of these companies are independently owned and operated anymore.  Whole Foods has purchased independent Mrs. Gooch’s, Bread and Circus, Wild Oats, Harry’s Farmer’s Markets, Wellspring, and Food For Thought.

Even local companies like Sweetgreen and Honest Tea are now partially owned by a PE group or owned by a large corporation, respectively.

With MOM’s rather rapid expansion, the PE groups are starting to call.  About a year ago, I received a call from the former CEO of 7-Eleven (and Blockbuster Video), who now represents Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa investment group.  He asked me to “seriously consider selling MOM’s” to them.  After listening to their plans, I suggested that the concept they are trying to launch is similar to what Tesco was doing with Fresh and Easy on the west coast- and I expressed concern that it wouldn’t work.  I never heard back from them but, a year later (this past fall), they purchased about 200 defunct Fresh and Easy locations from Tesco.

Earlier this year, I received a call from yet another PE group, this time represented by the former CEO of Borders Books. I told them that I appreciate and am flattered by their interest, but that I’m not interested. The PE groups insist that we need their money, talent, and Rolodex to take advantage of opportunity before competitors enter the market and MOM’s becomes obsolete.

My Leadership Team works and communicates so well together- and they’re so good at identifying problems and finding solutions. I think we’re capable, more capable than most of the advisors at PE firms actually, of growing MOM’s regionally/nationally and of further accomplishing our Purpose to protect and restore the environment.

If I were ever to sell MOM’s, I’d have to have a plan to do fulfilling work in the aftermath- and to do good with the proceeds. I could see taking on projects like building a wind farm or cleaning up the Chesapeake watershed, but the wonderful thing about MOM’s is that I can retain ownership and control and we can still accomplish such goals.

And what about the wonderful community and culture we’ve built here at MOM’s? Regardless of my ambitions, I’d feel responsible for keeping that intact, which would be left to chance if I weren’t running the company.

E-Cycle 2013 - Rockville, Maryland - MOM's Organic Market

Here’s the thing: I love running MOM’s. It’s challenging and it’s work I love doing. The community here is amazing. I enjoy my co-workers. Our customers are fantastic. The people we buy from are truly partners. And my work has purpose.

Regardless, the temptation to sell is real. Some people sell and never have to work again. While we’re told by society throughout our lives that this is the ultimate goal, my gut is telling me that I wouldn’t be happy- and I think many people who chase the big payout find the experience anticlimactic at best, depressing at worst.

I believe the bigger MOM’s is, the better for the world (Does Big = Bad?).  If MOM’s becomes a national company, then we’ll be able to have an even greater positive impact on the environment. The only way I could see us “selling out” is if we hit a ceiling in capital and talent and our growth becomes stunted, but so far MOM’s is doing great without outside help- and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, if ever.

Posted in business, MOM's Organic Market, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

Reasonable Zealots, An Oxymoron

I recently received the email below from a customer, her response to our monthly newsletter reminding customers to order their Thanksgiving turkeys:

“I’m really surprised that your advertising says “Giving Thanks” when you talk about reserving your murdered turkey. It doesn’t seem in character with what you try to portray. “Free range” or not, the birds are all murdered the same way – whether they get to breathe some fresh air or not. They end up on the same assembly line. Why doesn’t your company try to stand up on Thanksgiving and market whole, live foods instead? That would distinguish you from all the other markets. Otherwise, you’re the same as Whole Foods, Safeway, Giant, Trader Joe’s, etc, no different at all.”

Now, this is an extreme case of a zealot- and I don’t even think most animal rights zealots (let alone activists) would agree that we are “no different at all from Safeway and Giant.”  I appreciate passionate people, but when they cross the line into this perceived black and white world, they hurt the very causes for which they fight.

PerfectionEvery movement has zealots.  I can empathize with the Republican Party these days.  The Tea Party zealots are tying the hands of the entire conservative movement.  Zealots had the same impact on the 2000 election when the Green Party and those who supported Ralph Nader claimed that Al Gore and George Bush were the same- “part of the same corrupt 2-party system.”  Well, I’m pretty confident that Al Gore wouldn’t have invaded Iraq, resulting in the deaths of thousands of US soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians (not to mention a huge financial price tag).  And I’m sure Gore would have supported clean energy and we’d be much further along in the battle against climate change (will those 8 years of lost time take us beyond the tipping point?).

Back in the late 1990′s I had one store- the one on Parklawn Dr. in Rockville.  One beautiful Saturday afternoon customers started complaining about a horrible smell in the store.  It was overwhelming.  We opened the doors to get some ventilation, but the stench was unrelenting and flies started coming in.  We thought we had a sewage back up.  When we closed for the day, the smell was so strong that we were actually able to track its source to the cereal section.  We took boxes off the shelves and peeked behind to find some organic, locally raised chicken cutlets bubbling up out of an exploded plastic package.  I had no idea why anyone would put them there.  Did I have an enemy?  Maybe a disgruntled employee?

The following weekend, a cashier told me she recognized an animal rights activist group in the store and that she saw them take fish sticks out of the freezer, but that they didn’t have the product at checkout.  So we traced their steps and sure enough found the fish sticks behind some other shelving.  The cashier knew one of the activists and where he lived, so I called the police.  The police went to his house and we never saw them again.

Less than 1% of our total sales at the time were from meats.  Everything we sold was free range and free of antibiotics and hormones.  Yet, this is the black and white world in which a zealot lives: either you perfectly align with their agenda or you are The Enemy. There is no grey area and no consideration for effective progress.  I used to have a soft spot for the animal rights movement, but this incident and repeated emails like the one above have pretty much taken the issue off my radar in terms of support.

A zealot doesn’t realize that making the world a better place is a process, not an event. The organic farming movement illustrates this.  People gradually educate themselves on the merits of organics and begin to explore organic products, often times purchasing basics such as milk, baby food, eggs, etc. while getting mostly conventional products at Safeway or Giant.  Then, the consumer might decide to frequent the local farmers market and start regularly going to Whole Foods for some favorite items.  And then when they really want to make organics a lifestyle, they end up walking through our doors- filling their carts with amaranth and quinoa, raw almond butter, dandelion greens, medicinal teas, sprouted whole grain flours, etc.

It pains me to see zealots on issues that I generally support, because they are just as effective at setting back the movement as the opposition is- often more so.  In their demand for perfection, they stand in the way of progress.  Enlightenment is a journey, not an event.  Zealots not only need to stop trying to whip people into submission, but to clear the way, offer guidance, and walk arm in arm down the path of progress.

Posted in food, organic foods | Tagged , , , , , , , | 120 Comments

Equality for Non-Smokers

Screen Shot 2013-10-01 at 12.48.39 PMWe recently launched an internal anti-smoking initiative.  Our goal is not to lobby MOM’s employees to quit smoking, but to ensure that non-smoking employees are treated fairly.

For years, my office was either at the produce prep sink and/or in the back of the store.  I began to notice that some employees would go outside for a few minutes to smoke.  There was something inherently unfair about this, so I told them they needed to punch out for smoke breaks.

Back then, I was in charge of payroll- and it wasn’t automated.  I had to calculate everyone’s weekly hours by calculator.  Suddenly, calculating payroll was taking much longer, as some employees had 10+ “shifts” per day from all of their smoke breaks.  I felt like I was chasing my tail with this issue.

A recent study done by the British Medical Journal’s Tobacco Control suggests that smokers cost a company $5,816 per year due to costs of on-the-clock smoke breaks, excess healthcare, excess absenteeism, productivity loss due to withdrawal symptoms, and a disruption of focus and project momentum during numerous breaks.  But there’s more, which makes me think that the hidden cost is even higher than $5,816…

I’ve found that morale plummeted in stores where our management smoked. Employees lost respect for supervisors who were smoking instead of working.  They felt that others who smoked with (or without) the managers got special treatment.  The smokers were sometimes out of earshot of our paging system, so they weren’t able to help in a pinch.  This left the non-smokers to fend for themselves no matter how urgently help was needed.

Sometimes smokers would come off break and smell like smoke.  Not a pleasant experience for any customer.

Employees seen smoking by customers was terrible for our image.  Back in 1987 right before I started MOM’s (then called Organic Foods Express), I used to work at Organic Farms Inc.  It was an organic produce distributor open to the public on weekends.  I remember customers whispering the dirty little secret about Organic Farms- the owner smoked cigarettes.  This led them to believe he wasn’t committed to health and organic foods.

People have the right to be wrong, hurt themselves, and make mistakes.  These things are a normal part of the human experience (and a free society).  But, as the old saying goes- “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

Posted in business, MOM's Organic Market | Tagged , , , , , | 30 Comments