Spotlight on MOM’s Organic Market
Selected by OCA as one of the 2013 ‘Diligent Dozen” Right to Know Grocers
The mission statement on the MOM’s Organic Market website says it all: “Our purpose: to protect and restore the environment.” And what better way to protect the environment, than to support organic agriculture?
“We are Environmentalists. We believe that the destruction of our environment and climate change are the biggest problems facing humankind today. We believe that through leading by example we can have the biggest impact to protect and restore the environment. By instituting best practices to reduce our impact on the environment, and by educating staff and customers, we are influencing customers, employees, and many other businesses.”
MOM’s, which operates 10 stores in Maryland and Virginia, was one of the most passionately endorsed nominees for our Top 10 Right to Know Grocer’s Contest. And no wonder. The company chooses organic products whenever possible, stocking an overall higher percentage of organic items than any other major grocery chain, and selling only 100-percent USDA Certified Organic Produce.
“We buy local whenever possible. This helps reduce the amount of fuel used to transport products, supports small businesses, and boosts our local economy.”
MOM’s commitment to the environment and reducing the company’s carbon footprint is reflected in many of its policies, including operating 100-percent wind-powered stores, providing a green benefits program for employees, eliminating plastic bags at check-out counters as part of the company’s plastic surgery program, and bringing the company’s recycling rate to 85 percent of total waste.
A full 100 percent of MOM’s produce sales are certified organic, and roughly two-thirds of store sales are organic – an amazing feat for a grocery chain of 10 large stores. In July 2012, MOM’s informed suppliers that the company would no longer accept foods with high-risk GMO ingredients, and that products with containing suspect ingredients had to be either certified organic or Non-GMO Project verified.
Q. When did you take action to protect your customers from GMOs?
A. We had an unspoken stance for a while. As of July 2012, we began a more thorough investigation for approving new products with high-risk GMO ingredients such as corn, canola, soy, beets and cotton.
Q. How did your store’s GMO education, labeling and purchasing policies and practices come about?
A. As Prop 37 gained momentum last fall, we amped up our efforts to reformulate our purchasing policies to reflect our position on GMOs. We continue to emphasize the importance of protecting organics, which has always been part of our mission. Working with The Non-GMO Project has facilitated our leverage when working with vendors and reviewing product lines. The non-GMO project offers third-party certification and labeling, which eliminates additional questioning on our end. Very helpful!
Q. What has been the most difficult aspect of keeping GMOs out of your store?
A. The most difficult part is paying attention to not just corn in a product for instance, but also paying attention to derivatives like maltodextrin, ascorbic acid, etc. It’s also been enlightening to work with manufacturers and retailers who aren’t aware about what ingredients might be genetically modified, and educating them on how to avoid such ingredients or get the ingredients tested.
Education is incidental, and happens as we discuss our GMO concerns with vendors. If GMOs are not on their radar, our concerns bring GMOs to the forefront. Vendors learn that retailers such as MOM’s have GMO policies and that it affects what products we will and will not sell.
Q. Please share a few stories about your success in persuading manufacturers to remove or replace GMO ingredients in their products.
A. Most of our success has been with local vendors. Ester’s Granola, for example, was using canola oil in the granola. When we explained that we wouldn’t accept it with the non-organic, GMO-risk canola they began testing coconut oil and have now transitioned the entire line into coconut oil. We they switched, we began to carry the brand. Our Regional Grocery Coordinator is currently working with a chip vendor to change from canola/corn oil to sunflower/safflower oil. It’s still in the works! With larger companies it’s been tougher to effect change. But by standing firm in demanding organic or third-party certification we are ‘voting’ with our dollars.
Q. What customer feedback have you received about your GMO policies and practices?
A. Positive and negative. Many customers are thrilled we are making efforts and feel all the more confident shopping at MOM’s as a result. Other customers are frustrated that manufacturers do not label GMOs already (and we share that frustration). Some customers are disappointed when they can’t find an item in our stores that they like. But they typically understand and appreciate when we explain our reasons for not carrying it. Our leadership team is discussing ideas for how to communicate GMO-based product changes with customers.
Q. What tools could OCA or the natural foods industry provide that would help you and other grocers keep GMOs out of the food supply?
A. Keep pushing organics. We see a trend that brands are considering non-GMO more important than organic and we thinking that’s the wrong message. Organic means that it can’t be GMO or GE, which alleviates the need of having verified non-GMO. Organic is much better for the environment. We’re seeing brands that are organic and don’t have high potential GMOs going through verification because that’s what they believe the customer wants. If something is USDA organic then by definition it cannot be genetically engineered. This tells us that we need to do more educating of both customers and manufacturers. Anecdotally, brands used to come in and the first thing they would say is, “look, it’s organic!” Now they come in and the first thing they mention is, “look, it’s non-GMO.” It would also be helpful to have a standard, across-the-board definition of “natural,” and whether a product labeled “natural” does or does not allow GMOs.
Q. What would you like to tell other grocers thinking about taking products with GMO ingredients off their shelves?
A. That it’s a daunting task! We’ve been able to eliminate non-organic potential GMOs when we have an organic alternative. For instance removing non-organic canola oil in favor of just carrying organic, and also regular milk yogurt. But by no means are we close to eliminating all, and we know of no grocery store in the country that can say any different. Still, overall customer response has been positive, and we see vendors trying to adjust to stay relevant.
On Mission and Values . . .
Q. What makes your store special in the competitive natural foods marketplace?
A. Our purpose: to protect and restore the environment. We make our decisions based on that purpose, a purpose our customers value and trust. We only offer 100-percent USDA certified organic produce. We are 100-percent wind powered as of 2005. We offer free electric car charging at many of our stores. We have in-store recycling for customers and free tire inflation before winter. Our customers often tell us that our customer service is extraordinary, which keeps us striving to offer more and better services to our community.
Q. Describe your store’s mission and values.
A. Our Purpose is to protect and restore the environment.
Q. How does your store express these values through your purchasing policies?
A. MOM’s purchasing policies reflect our values and purpose in a variety of ways. For instance, MOM’s only sells sustainable seafood based on “Best Choice” recommendations from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. We also encourage vendor products that contain palm oil to use Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) palm. RSPO is an international multi stakeholder organization and certification scheme for sustainable palm oil.
Our produce department sells only 100-percent USDA Certified organic produce, and chooses to work with local farms that maintain the native ecosystems and forests on their property and implement practices that promote beneficial organisms and biodiversity. These farms include Mother Earth, Claggett Farm, Lady Moon Farm.
We sell heirloom seed varieties in the spring to preserve traditional varietals and source as much local honey as possible to support the pollination of local flora. For honeys originating from other parts of the country, we ask for purity testing to ensure that it includes pollen from the particular varietal.
Q. What are your store’s goals?
A. 1) To educate customers and our communities about protecting and restoring the environment. 2) To continually increase our organic offerings, by bringing in organic products whenever possible. 3) To have an impact on the grocery and retail industries by sharing our environmental policies and encouraging them to adopt similar policies.
Personally speaking . . .
Q. What do you find most enjoyable and gratifying about the retail grocery business?
A. Learning about the industry, interacting with customers, offering stellar customer service, having the opportunity to learn and educate about the environment and organics.
Q. How did you get interested in natural foods retailing, and what keeps you in the business?
A. Scott Nash started MOM’s in 1987 at the age of 22 with an initial investment of $100. MOM’s was originally called Organic Foods Express (OFE) and operated as a home-delivery/mail order company out of Scott‘s mom’s garage. Eventually, as the retail aspect of OFE increased, the delivery/mail order was phased out. OFE eventually opened to the public seven days a week for retail sales and soon changed the name to My Organic Market and then MOM’s Organic Market. Our niche is high quality organic produce, fair prices, and exceptional customer service. Many companies have huge marketing budgets, the cost of which they share with their customers by raising prices. MOM’s rarely pays for advertising and mainly relies on word of mouth. We pass the savings on to our customers. Our Regional Grocery Coordinators work hard to buy product in quantities that suit a company of our size, and we share those savings with our customers as well. Lastly, we don’t overcharge our customers! What keeps us in the business is our desire to uphold our purpose and simultaneously, our relationship with our customers. We strive to provide our large customer base with responsible grocery choices at good prices, to make their shopping experience the easiest it can be.
Q. What else would you like us to know about your store?
A. We love hearing from customers! Our owner, Scott Nash, is available by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and phone (301.767.9433) for any question, concern, need, or comment that our customers may have. Our customers have great ideas and we want to hear from them all.