Seward Co-op dumps some products made by anti-birth control Eden Foods, cites poor sales

Co-ops and groceries might not be boycotting Eden, but at Seward, a critical mass of customers are.
Co-ops and groceries might not be boycotting Eden, but at Seward, a critical mass of customers are.

As local co-ops and groceries take heat for not dumping products made by Eden Foods, a Catholic-owned company under fire for refusing to provide birth control to its employees on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, the response from places like Mississippi Market and the Seward Co-op has been largely the same -- they won't boycott, but urge customers to vote with their dollars.

Some are apparently doing just that at the Seward Co-op, and in response, management announced earlier this week that they've already stopped selling some Eden products.

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In the week after SCOTUS announced its Hobby Lobby ruling on June 30, sales of Eden products dropped 12 percent, Seward officials say on a post on the co-op's website. For the first four weeks of July as a whole compared to last year, sales of Eden products were down 15 percent.

"We've told customers through our comment system and via social media... [that] if Eden Foods products stop selling well, we'll stop buying them," Seward's web post says. "We tracked product movement in July, and Eden Foods sales have indeed slowed down... Several Eden Foods' products whose sales have slowed considerably have been discontinued altogether."

In addition to dropping some Eden products, Sean Doyle, GM of Seward Co-op, wrote Eden Foods President Michael Potter a letter urging him to "drop your lawsuit against Health and Human Services, and fund insurance coverage for contraception for all of your employees." (Read the full text on page two of this post.)

In related news, the Wedge Co-op recently published a statement outlining its position on the Eden Foods controversy. Like Seward and the Mississippi Market, the Wedge doesn't have a "boycott policy" and focuses on "issues surrounding food, farming, and the health of the soil" rather than health insurance.

"Co-ops are not the economic arm of progressive politics," the statement says. "We do not fire weapons in the culture war and do not have a contraception position or an insurance coverage position."

"There are shoppers who prefer Eden products because of the company's 40+ year track record on organic integrity, domestic sourcing and BPA-free packaging," it continues. "There are shoppers who just prefer the way those products taste. That is their choice. We are not in the habit of letting some owners decide what products other owners may purchase at their own co-op, other than that the products have to sell enough to earn their shelf space."

That said, the Wedge vows to track Eden sales, and to remove the company's products from its shelves if sales drop as they apparently have down Franklin Ave. at the Seward Co-op.

To read the full text of the letter the Seward Co-op's Doyle wrote to Potter, click to page two.


Dear Mr. Potter:

For over four decades, Eden Foods has been a unique brand for natural foods co-ops. Your products have been a mainstay on our packaged grocery shelves, your company has been a stalwart ally in the fight for strong USDA organic standards, and you've been an industry leader in the use of BPA-free lined cans. As a result, Eden Foods products have enjoyed a welcome place on shelves here at Seward Co-op.

Unfortunately, your decision to go forward with your case against Health and Human Services in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has opened Eden Foods to harsh scrutiny and review at Seward Co-op. This political action on your part has opened our cooperatively owned business to criticism and scrutiny as well. We are accused of supporting a business that violates a fundamental human right.

As a result, I'm writing as the general manager of Seward Co-op and a longtime purveyor of your product to ask you to reconsider your decision to adjudicate your opposition to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to accept that it is the decision of female employees to decide on their own reproductive choices. Many owners and customers of Seward have informed us that they feel the co-op is complicit in a human rights violation by selling Eden Foods. They cannot understand why we would sell products from your company when our mission reads:

"Seward Co-op will sustain a healthy community that has equitable economic relationships; positive environmental impacts; and inclusive, socially responsible practices."

In short, they've asked us to discontinue selling your brand. Since April 2013, we've received 59 written customer comments expressing this sentiment and far more comments on the sales floor and through various social media platforms. This represents more comments than Seward Co-op has ever received related to products we sell.

Since Seward Co-op doesn't have a boycott policy, when pressed to drop Eden Foods we've told customers to "vote with their dollars" -- and they have. In the week immediately following the Supreme Court's Burkett v. Hobby Lobby decision, sales of Eden Foods products dropped by 12%. When we compare the four weeks since the decision to the same period last year, Eden Foods sales have dropped 15%. These are sales that we have lost as well.

I assume you're experiencing similar decreases in sales. Consequently, I'm writing on behalf of the nearly 12,000 households that own Seward Co-op to strongly urge you to reflect carefully on the impact your political decision is having on the natural foods market you've supported for so long. Eden Foods may not be the largest organic foods manufacturer in the world, but I believe that your role in this market is unique. Your actions are impacting not only the employees of Eden Foods and Seward Co-op shoppers, but they also affect Seward Co-op employees and our ability to conduct business. Worse, your actions will impact small organic farmers and food producers, as well, because they too will suffer from lost sales. It would be a tragedy if your political decision put some of these farmers out of business.

I hope you will consider the impacts that your decision has had, drop your lawsuit against Health and Human Services, and fund insurance coverage for contraception for all of your employees. I hope you're heeding market realities and that you'll take action to prevent ongoing damage to Eden Foods.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience in regards to Eden Foods' future.


Sean Doyle
General Manager
Seward Community Co-op

Send your story tips to the author, Aaron Rupar. Follow him on Twitter @atrupar.

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