Seward Co-op's Letter to Michael Potter

Update on the Eden Foods issue from Seward Community Co-op

Background

Eden Foods produces 70+ packaged organic products and has been an exemplary member of the natural foods community for over four decades.

Last year, Eden Foods’ CEO Michael Potter filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration, challenging its ability to compel Eden Foods and other privately held businesses to cover birth control with Eden Foods’ employee benefits. That lawsuit was dismissed by the Sixth Circuit Court last year.

The issue resurfaced in July 2014, however, when the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a company that had filed a very similar lawsuit to CEO Michael Potter’s.

In the aftermath of the SCOTUS ruling, the Second Circuit Court is currently reviewing Michael Potter’s suit from last year.

At Issue

Many Seward Co-op owners and shoppers have written Seward or commented on Facebook and Twitter, saying that in light of Eden Foods’ Michael Potter’s actions, the co-op should consider removing Eden Foods products from our shelves. These customers argue that Eden Foods has proven itself discriminatory against women and conducting business contrary to Seward Co-op ideals.

Seward Co-op’s Response

Seward Co-op does not have a boycott policy, which means, we don’t boycott product because we have no policy to guide us on how to do that. We’ve told customers through our comment system and via social media to “vote with your dollars,” and if Eden Foods products stop selling well, we’ll stop buying them.

We tracked product movement in July, and Eden Foods sales have indeed slowed down (specific numbers in Sean Doyle’s letter posted below). Several Eden Foods’ products whose sales have slowed considerably have been discontinued altogether.

Sean Doyle, Seward Co-op General Manager, wrote to Eden Foods’ Michael Potter to express sharp disagreement with his position and to express deep concern about Eden Foods’ future.

The text of the letter is posted here for Seward owners and shoppers to read.

Text of Seward General Manager
Sean Doyle's Letter to Michael Potter


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.

Cooperatively,

Sean Doyle
General Manager
Seward Community Co-op



Eden Foods' response to this letter can be read here.