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Monday
Jul302012

Shopping for Truth at Trader Joe's

We participated in "Shopping for Truth" at Trader Joe's yesterday in Portland, ME with The Conscious Caravan and our family and kids in tow. We didn't dress up in hazmat suits, nor did we bring caution tape, but we were on an Educational Mission to ask them to verify their Non-GMO claim on their Trader Joe's brand. I started off telling the kids we were going on a treasure hunt to find foods that were safe to eat, and to look for either Non-GMO Project Verified, or USDA Certified Organic. They could all pick out a snack and then we would find out what was safe and what was not. Simple enough, right? Educating our next generation on what is in our foods. They gravitated to the fruit at first, and we sorted over mostly conventionally grown produce, only to realize there was only one lone island with Organics, limited selection indeed. Then, they went for the dried fruit and granola and crackers. Normal everyday healthy fare for kids, right? So it seemed.

When our baskets were full we went to the front to talk with a Customer Service Rep who claimed to be a "manager" and when asked if she could help us determine what had GMO's in them and what did not, she wasn't sure. She said that the Trader Joe's brand label was Non-GMO, that Trader Joe's has always been committed to sourcing Non-GMO ingredients for their products. And, that she thought the third party certification and affidavits were all public record. She said we were welcome to call Headquarters and ask them where we could find these public records, and that there 'might' be something on the website about it, but she really didn't know, and she certainly couldn't tell us what was truly safe from GMO's. Appreciated her honesty, and that of the second guy who helped us sort through our basket and put back all of the foods that were TJ's brand. After choosing several brand items, we told them we could not trust them unless they could show us proof of Non-GMO certification. As an employee, he understood, stood behind our concern, and wanted his company to come out and show proof, too. So, we basically shopped, and then un-shopped. Our four year old even helped us put the foods back. She gets it. She understood she couldn't have the snack she picked out because it could potentially have GMO's in it. Sad, to say to a 4 year old that these foods are unsafe, but she gets it. Well, shouldn't the employees and management at Trader Joe's get it, too?

Turns out the first "manager" wasn't really a manager, or had a manager above her, because as we were talking about the foods we had to return and discussing GMO's and the Trader Joe's brand in the aisle with other customers all around us, another "manager" appeared. She listened to what we had to say about seeking verification that their brand name items were truly Non-GMO, and listened to our desire as a family, as a group of families out here educating people on how to shop Non-GMO, for TJ's to show proof so we would continue shopping with them. That we wanted them to reach out to the Non-GMO Project for verification. That we were out here representing the thousands of families that we connect with on the road that want to know what's in our foods, and where is safe to shop. We get asked all the time where is left that's safe to shop, and we only share what we know is safe, through and through, what we trust with our own kids. Sadly, the truth we found out today at Trader Joe's is that they don't want us to know the truth. 

She basically nodded and listened and then said that Trader Joe's does not disclose any of that information to the public, that the other "manager" we talked to was misinformed and that none of that info is public record. She then made sure we checked out with our couple of things that were Non-GMO, and asked that we not take any photos in the store or hand out any literature to customers. Outside, as my hubby took the kids back to the Eco Womb to have a snack, I stayed behind to try and connect with anyone interested and wanting to know more about how to shop Non-GMO. I was asked to leave the front of the store, but that I could be in the parking lot. I was only talking to people about Non-GMO's, I wasn't doing street theater, I didn't have a megaphone. But, when it seems there is something to hide, they sure don't want even a mom on a mission to be around. Then, as I was walking alone in the parking lot, one mom talking to other moms, interacting with people that were interested in learning more about Non-GMO's and encouraging people to ask Trader Joe's to show proof they were verified, up comes said manager, now telling me I had to leave the parking lot. But, she said, I could be on the sidewalk on the main road, in the rain, where of course there were no customers. She then informed me that the Eco Womb Tour Bus was in a towable zone. Um, yeah right. We shopped in your store, and also bought a filter for our veggie system at the West Marine next door, so as patronizing customers I do not see how we could be towed.

I shared with her that we want to support Trader Joe's, that we want to tell people that they are safe, we just want proof. It wasn't us against them, it was us wanting to work together. We know a lot of people that shop at Trader Joe's all the time, and now they are on the fence about trusting them. We want to save TJ's customers from leaving. So, she left well enough alone, and I walked away knowing that we connected with people, we shared the message, we got some notice, and we did it in a proactive way that showed as a mom, with kids in tow, that we have the right to know what is in our food!!!!

It was an educational experience for our family, explaining how to read ingredients and how to look for the Non-GMO label. Their employees were very interested and wanting TJ's to show proof, just not sure management will get there. I think it is important to call them out, though. We shop at local farmer's markets and buy ALL organic and Non-GMO, but a lot of people shop here under the premise that their brand is Non-GMO and they are not showing proof of that! We educate on how to shop Non-GMO to thousands of families and have been asked where is safe to shop. We went today to find out and to educate customers on making sure they buy Non-GMO. We also went so TJ's knows that their customers want them to verify their food sources and want to eat safe products. Only way to create change is to vote with your fork and your dollar, and also speak up, ask questions, let them know what the people want, that we have the right to know what is in our foods. It does make a difference!

For photos of our day "Shopping for Truth" see our event gallery at http://www.ecowomb.com/gallery/shopping-for-truth-at-trader-joes/

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Reader Comments (15)

Thank you for shopping for the truth at Trader Joe's! Hopefully Trader Joe's will listen to its customers and do the right thing. Keep up the great work!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

Glad you are working on this issue. We need more activists!

July 30, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Capozzi

Does a system exist for TJ's or any other store to truly verify, w/ legal certainty, that their providers and their farmer's and suppliers use only Non-GMO seed? Or is that also part of what we're voting on in CA this Nov?
Thanks for caring abt us :-)! Peace

August 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStan

The mere fact that they attempted to bully you out of the store and even the parking lot shows their unwilling corporate culture to be lacking in tact and truthfulness. In addition to which, they apparently agree in practice that corporations are people, and have the power to push smaller (i.e., HUMAN) people around.

They're going to work with whomever gives them the lowest price so they can mark it up five times and sell it in their fancy overpriced store with all the other GMO shit the other stores sell.

Personally, I shop at local farm stands and Asian groceries, because the family farmer is STILL the only one that cares. We cannot let the family farmer become extinct!

August 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWarren S. Levine

Vendors at farmer's markets don't verify with signs because they aren't allowed to unless they have the gov't. certification. I wish TJ's could explain why they don't verify.

August 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

Thank you for doing this! I have been asking these questions since TJ has come to town. Thank you!

August 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNoodle

@Janet - Maybe so, but the family farmers around here can't afford to buy GMO -- at least I don't think they do. We've got a lot of retired hippies (me included) living up here in NW Washington State and lower British Columbia, many of whom grow various plants, including therapeutic (me included), and they're all natural. ;-)

August 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWarren S. Levine

Warren, that was my thought. Small farmers can't afford to, but what's up with TJ's?

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

For years I have been asking the same questions while I shop for healthy food. I was driving 10 miles to get to a Trader Joes, thinking I was doing my family good, and supporting organic farmers. I also realized there was only a small selection of organic produce. Turned out that TJ was nothing special. Certainly not worth the drive. I started shopping the outer isles (where the fresh food is) at Raleys/Bel-Air. They had an organic isle, but I still had to hunt out the Non GMO label. All the organic products were placed on one handy isle. Then they changed things, soon organic food was sharing the isle with automotive supplies and insecticides. i complained to store managers, then I made calls to the corporate headquarters. First they blamed it on a product representative who changed their product placement. They promised it was temporary. I A few weeks later the organic isle was gone. So was I.

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterteresa

Pat St. John, vice president of marketing for Trader Joe's West Coast division in South Pasadena, Calif., said the chain sources organic products whenever possible, and objects to being targeted by Greenpeace for selling GM foods, "when 60% to 70% of the food on anybody's shelf is likely to contain GMOs. "We don't carry, nor do we claim to carry, GMO-free products. It is a goal of ours, but due to certain standards, we are unable to guarantee it at this point," St. John said. "Trader Joe's is not going to say we aim to do something that we are not sure we will ever be able to do.² Regarding labeling, St. John said, "The state of the industry right now is very much in flux, and even well-meaning people are finding it very difficult. [For GMOs,] if the FDA, or USDA choose to mandate labeling, they will have to agree on what the labeling will be. To test down to the zero percent is impossible now."
-Taken from Organic Consumers Ass.

What stands out to me is that "To test down to the zero percent is impossible now." How can you trace the seeds used in the products back to their origin?

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

They have their own little paternalistic monarchy going on there -- why spoil it by talking? They were none too anxious to speak to CNN, Fortune, or Money Magazine either. Full article link below; operative paragraph copied, highlighted, and pasted below that for those who want to cut to the chase. The deeper I read into just whom we're dealing with here the more it reminds me of Mitt Romney and his tax returns for the past decade. It's their own little insular world they're living in - a mirrored cocoon, out of which it's impossible to see.

http://money.cnn.com/2010/08/20/news/companies/inside_trader_joes_full_version.fortune/index.htm

You'd think Trader Joe's would be eager to trumpet its success, but management is obsessively secretive. There are no signs with the company's name or logo at headquarters in Monrovia, about 25 miles east of downtown Los Angeles. Few customers realize the chain is owned by Germany's ultra-private Albrecht family, the people behind the Aldi Nord supermarket empire. (A different branch of the family controls Aldi Süd, parent of the U.S. Aldi grocery chain.) Famous in Germany for not talking to the press, the Albrechts have passed their tightlipped ways on to their U.S. business: Trader Joe's and its CEO, Dan Bane, declined repeated requests to speak to Fortune, and the company has never participated in a major story about its business operations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Albrecht will give you a good idea of the agoraphobic who owns the company. And his own private golf course. Must be nice....

August 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWarren S. Levine

Thank you for your hard work & calling attention to this serious problem. I believe that all foods have something wrong. Chem trails etc. Unless food is grown in green houses, above ground growing, filtered air & water, that all food will have traces of bad things. I think a little is better than a lot of poisons. I will vote on prop 37 & donate to NonGOMProject. Much Love to all.

August 7, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRandall

Thank you for the information. I wrote to Trader Joes on the 5th of August and still haven't got a response from them. I guess I just always trusted what their website says. Our brand names do not contain GMO's. Sad it is hard to find safe food for my family. I try to make mostly everything from scratch. That helps a little.

August 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

I totally get the need for non-gmo food, however I'm starting to think that the Non-GMO Project is verging on creating panic in consumers instead of educating them. Because they offer verification of products that couldn't possibly be GMO (tea, for instance), they are creating the impression that unless a product is verified (by them, for money, of course), we should be afraid to eat it. I wonder how many items in your cart would fall into the category of 'couldn't possibly be gmo' that you put back on the shelf because it lacked third party verification?

August 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRachel

Rachel, I think that they are laying the foundation for what is to come, when tea, etc. can be genetically altered and patented.

August 17, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJanet

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