retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Responding to yesterday's piece about reusable egg cartons, MNB reader Brian Blank wrote:

Interesting piece on Pete and Gerry’s.  Reusable egg cartons are not new to some of us, though refilling them at a supermarket sure is.  Those of us who are fortunate enough to have access to farmers or farmer’s markets have been swapping empty cartons for full ones for years!

But, from another MNB reader:

They’re made from molded plastic. More plastic. While this feels like a step up, and in a way it is, it’s not idea and smacks of more green-washing.

Back in the not so distant past, we routinely took back paper pulp cartons from shoppers to return to our small egg suppliers. Yet, there is risk inherent in eggs for food born illness so cartons would need to be made out of something that could be sterilized. Perhaps a bio-plastic made from corn?

Meanwhile, we’ll continue to sell eggs from local family farms that come to us in recyclable paper pulp. We have only one egg line that doesn’t pack this way. Overall, It’s more sustainable and better for the environment to sell local eggs in paper, but it’s not as flashy.

And, from MNB reader Aaron Gottschalk:

Interesting concept but what I think needs more exposure and more consideration are reusable food containers and while we haven't gone there yet, there are compelling reasons to adopt a reusable food container program such as the one developed by the Good Food Store in Montana.  As a microcosm our retail grocery store with our hot bar and salad bar go through upwards of 600 to go boxes day.  A reusable container program has customers purchasing the food containers and then bringing them back to exchange with a clean and sanitized one upon their next visit.  So customers are basically renting them.  What a great way to save on packaging costs while reducing landfill.   Food service is exploding and that will hopefully drive other creative solutions.

We had a story the other day about how Oklahoma City was considering legislation that would force dollar stores to carry a certain amount of fresh food, as one way of dealing with food deserts. Which prompted MNB reader Marc Jones to write:

Thank you for your coverage of the OKC initiative to limit dollar stores and the challenges we face in giving many of our residents access to fresh food.
I’ll admit that I have a dog in the fight as the CEO of a small Oklahoma City based retailer (HAC, Inc aka Homeland Stores) who recently announced a tentative agreement to build a new supermarket and headquarters in this food dessert.  We worked with the councilwoman mentioned in the WSJ article, Nikki Nice, the OKC mayor and a large number of city officials over the course of multiple years before we could reach a deal that worked for everyone and we are still over a year away from opening the store.

But just because it’s complicated doesn’t mean that it’s not worth doing.  I agree with your comment that it’s worth trying different strategies and tactics and lest you think that OKC is only trying one, here’s a few other interesting initiatives in our community:

RestoreOKC – a non-profit group has opened a small food store and garden in the heart of the community.  Product selection is limited (I know because we actually supply them at our cost) but their plans are to grow the selection and ultimately to grow many thousands pounds of vegetables, fruit and even seafood (it’s quite a community garden/greenhouse system they have built in partnership with local businesses and universities) with a long term strategy not just to feed their neighbors but to also educate them and provide activities and learning for the community’s youths.

Free transportation – OKC has offered free bus service to nearby grocers (Walmart) though ridership has been low and it isn’t an ideal solution to force people to leave their community to buy food, even if you make it logistically easier.

Free Delivery – your point on using e-commerce is a good one…we are offering free delivery to the zip code affected until our store opens.  Of course challenges include access to computers, internet and/or credit cards.

Again I’m not a disinterested bystander in this, in fact I try to cheer on (and participate!) in the initiatives whenever I can.  Our city is growing but that growth is not evenly dispersed.  As businesspeople and as neighbors we owe it to each other to figure out how to help all our residents.  And while there are many many non-financial reasons to do good and feed our community, I also believe that with enough creativity these types of initiatives to bring better food choices into our urban food deserts can be profitable and self-sustaining.
Anyways, thought you’d find the additional detail interesting and btw thank you for your tireless daily efforts to deliver us industry news with an attitude, it is enjoyed an appreciated!

Thank you for providing this context. Food deserts continue to be an enormous problem in a lot of communities, and I'm always interested in how solutions are being crafted.
KC's View: