Petition Pushes B-foods Board
Anybody want to lay odds that Bloomingfoods will be nothing more than a fondly-recalled part of this town’s history within five years? That’s no sucker’s play. “Natural” and organic mega-grocers Lucky’s Market and Whole Foods Market are coming to town and B-foods already is feeling the pinch.
In addition to grappling with the potential unionization of its workforce and the need to shutter its underperforming Kirkwood Avenue store, the Bloomingfoods co-op is running for its life at this time.
Blame it on the vagaries of the trendy “natural” foods market or the phase of the moon if you wish. Some, though, are blaming the co-op’s Board of Directors. In fact, a change.org petition page has been set up, demanding that the Board, well, do something. Acc’d’g to the petition, the Board has been sitting on its hands through what is described as the current “crisis.”
One Pencil source says that because B-foods had been the only “natural” and organic grocer in town for decades, its Board has come to suffer from “extreme hubris.”
[The Pencil will not disclose the identities of many of its sources for Bloomingfoods stories because they are employees and may not wish to put their jobs at risk.]
This person explains: “Our Board has never had to do anything. They don’t have the will [or] knowledge to act.”
The petition asks the Board to “Reach out to our national association, [National Co+op Grocers (NCG)], and request an emergency peer review/audit.” The NCG, apparently, can send in volunteer General Managers from other member grocers to pore over B-foods’ books, interview management and employees, and assess things like merchandising, buying, and pricing. The vol GMs then would file a report with recommendations for a course of action.
Should the Board take the petition-signers’ advice and apply for a NCG review, they’d better hurry. Even Kroger has upped its commitment to “natural” and organic foods of late. In fact, the east side Kroger Theme Park’s organics section is as big as any of Bloomingfoods’ entire locations. Kroger has gone all-in on “naturals” and organics. Its overall sales in that category for 2014 reached to between $3-4 billion. Kroger’s organic house brand, Simple Truth®, accounted for a billion dollars in sales last year.
Mainstream customers here who have shied away from crunchy grocers like Bloomingfoods are embracing the trend at their preferred neighborhood Kroger. And while many Bloomingfoods customers are driven to remain loyal for moral and ethical reasons, many others who simply want “clean” foods likely will get their grub at Kroger rather than make the trip to B-foods.
A quick lesson in label designations: I put “natural” in quotation marks because there is no legal or regulatory definition of the term. Many consumers define “natural” foods as those without chemical additives, ignoring the scientific fact that things like water (H2O) or table salt (NaCl) are themselves chemicals. Organics, on the other hand, are strictly controlled by the US Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) National Organic Program. The growing, processing, packaging, handling, and merchandising of certified organic foods all must meet the NOP’s rigid standards.
The USDA’s Official Organic Program Logo
BTW: much of the NOP body of regulations was written, essentially, by Whole Foods Market. The Organic Foods Production Act was passed into law by Congress in 1990, calling for regulations covering organic farming practices and the publication of lists of allowed and forbidden ingredients. The NOP took effect in 2000. During that ten-year period, Whole Foods was essentially the only game in town — or, more accurately, the nation — when it came to organic retailing.
Anyway, business and food store co-op expert, Keith Taylor of Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, set up the change.org petition. You can hear him explain the situ. tomorrow afternoon on WFHB. As soon as I get more info on the time and show, I’ll pass it on.
Make sure to catch this slate.com piece on photographer Jeff Wolin’s fascinating study of Bloomington’s citizens. Wolin snapped pix of Pigeon Hill folk back in the late 1980s and early ’90s. Then he did it again with many from the same cast of characters some 20 years later. Pigeon Hill is a small stretch of shotgun houses northwest of downtown Bloomington, on the other side of Rogers Street. Suffice it to say professors and doctors do not live there.
Tempus fugit, babies, and that maxim has been brought home dramatically through Wolin’s lens. Here’s a taste:
A young fellow named Timmie in the neighborhood, 1991, and Timothy in 2012 at Wabash Valley prison — Images by Jeffrey A. Wolin
See more of Wolin’s pix at Pictura Galley, on the Square, through May 30th.
Who Runs This Town?
Perhaps one of the lawyers or pols who read these almost-daily screeches can clear something up. Yesterday I spoke with someone purportedly in the know. This person said that as far back as the Frank McCloskey administration here in this thriving, throbbing megalopolis, there was an understanding that real estate developers have held an absolute upper hand in any negotiations with the city.
That is, if a developer and construction company partnership came along and proposed to erect a mixed-use hotel, grocery store, and opium den at the corner of, say, Indiana and Kirkwood avenues, well, then within a year or two there would stand at that intersection just such a structure — let’s call it The Blooming-den Suites. And no matter how many citizens would object to a grocery store standing there, or how many city council members would rant and rave about the loss of a row of forsythia bushes at that location, the real estate partnership would get its way.
Developers and construction cos., this person observed, were — and are — as powerful as gods. Their will, in other words, be done.
In fact, this person swore, Frank McCloskey gathered the city’s planning commissioners one day in his office and said:
I won’t tell you what to do but I will say this — when a big development plan comes in, no matter how much it violates our dearly-held “character” or flouts our zoning guidelines, if we nix it, then that developer will sue our pants off. And we don’t have enough money to pay for those legal fees even if we win.
Hmm. This is one of those stories that sounds really good. The world is rife with avaricious money and concrete men who are dead-set on ruining our quaint small town. And the valiant, embattled mayor, realizing the deck is stacked, sadly explains the facts-of-life to his people.
These facts of life, my source attested, are in play today even more than they were back in Frank McCloskey’s day.
So, is there anyone out there with the guts to admit this or the credibility to deny it?