The Real Food Revolution Winds of Change Blow Into The Store…
The reality of the new context we find ourselves in, was best evidenced yesterday when after 2 hours of us all spending time in a CPA (consumer protection act) labelling workshop, we got back to the store and found a sample on my desk of an ‘energy drink’ somebody had left on my desk.
We all circled it and reacted to it like we might the presence of a limpet mine.
The glaring issues with this particular drink after cementing our new focus in getting us all to understand how to get the store fully in alignment with the ACT R146 labelling requirements made us view it differently to how we might have ever before and evidenced what has changed.
Almost hesitant to pick it up – we took in all the claims – like Doctor approved, and ‘all natural’ and ‘no this’ and ‘no that’ and sugar-free, gluten-free and so forth and realised how we all had changed.
Suddenly something that might have looked interesting or neutral before our workshop – now was seen utterly differently – we were entirely suspicious.
Just the presence of it as a sample in my store illustrated why we need to re-focus the store and protect ourselves in the new context we now find ourselves in which is that conveyor belt food is starting to re-organize and greenwash.
A drink like that would be right for me store, yet it will end up most likely in many similar stores as the ‘health’ industry starts to attract such stuff & nonsense as evidence of our growth.
We are not – and never will be – a ‘health’ store. This is a place focused on sustainably produced farm food first and foremost – not conveyor belt ‘green’ alternatives to conventional food.
It’s unlikely that even prior I would have found something like that suitable for our store but a product loaded with glaring claims, we now know is something to approach very cautiously. What we learnt from that workshop – that the more claims made, the more attention and caution we need to bear.
Our initial context that inspired my journey with this business and our slow walk to becoming viable, was that we were blazing a trail for real food from real farms with an organic focus.. We started this journey 6 years ago when nobody really even understood what organic or sustainably produced healthy alternatives to the dominant conventionally and factory farmed food, were.
As food consciousness has grown with the consumer group wanting to shop in an alternative, conscious way supporting small sustainable farmers and artisans has risen up, more players have entered the space and we have ‘retailers’ with a retail mind-set looking to take advantage of it operating along-side ethical food stores run by activists who grew into the space.
Trust me we are entirely different animals.
And now, what we face is new versions of conveyor belt, refined nonsense with clever gimmicky tag lines exploiting the space and I fear going to confuse consumers. Unless we take charge and show some serious leadership in the space, and I will.
Prior to being in this new context, we were all struggling to just be viable. The labelling laws weren’t our focus as we were more desperately trying to just make it feasible to get small producers produce to the table and all in that space – were small craft artisans and farms not ‘retail’ fit.
From that point of view, the Consumer Protection Act and the labelling law ACT R146 that supports it seemed a hindrance to the growth of these smaller players who can’t afford the cost of labelling expertise and the costs of getting nutritional analysis and the work to prove their claim.
After the particular threats we’ve seen to this space that show that it is about to become contaminated with green-washing stuff and nonsense, and a particular fraud that drew our attention to the nature of the type of deceit and manipulation that some are going to attempt here, all focus on the store has changed in a particular way – and now we see how important it is to ensure that anything that enters our store – before we go anywhere is labelled in accordance with ACT R146.
What we learnt yesterday – was that when all is said and done – the ACT that governs how things are labelled, when truly understood – is there to help protect us all against green-washing. The ‘alternative food space’ is the place where when fraud and illusion enters is particularly vulnerable because of the loaded ‘heath’ words on products can and have been exaggerated and exploited.
The labelling law is all structured around protecting the consumer from mis-leading claims, where even though those claims can be most true for some of the really honest farmers and artisans that we represent, are exactly the same claims that will be used by the green-washers regrettably.
You will see a different focus from us over the next month especially as we all come to grips with understanding the law and ensuring that everything in our store complies.
You will come to see our team with a new lovely fresh lady, Liberty Bell in the store with check-lists studying labels with myself and our team. You will see products being withdrawn where we need to send products back to producers to re-label in accordance with the law, this process has already started and we will be doing what we can to help our artisans and farmers through the change.
We will also start our own label for many products so that we can represent things properly.
We are buttoning down the hatches and while the store will run as normal, we are following a process of all drilling into the labels, removing products, no matter how much I know and trust the farmer or artisan and getting them to change anything that doesn’t comply. It’s a protection mechanism that is good for all.
Because what I accept now and cringe at, is that if I had really understood the philosophy of the ACT, the chocolate that changed this journey – would never have been able to enter the store – because in terms of the act, even before we knew that the evidence to support the claims had been fabricated, the actual labelling didn’t comply.
Had we been at the space we insist on moving to now, it wouldn’t have entered the store on that basis alone. That is evidence of how the ACT R146 when applied correctly and understood – actually does what it is meant to do – it actually makes green-washing very difficult. And illegal.
We have been so resistant honestly to the ACT R146 as it seemed a hindrance initially to smaller businesses and more relevant to big food.
After our workshop yesterday and time spent with one of the best labeling consultants and CPA attorneys input – we get now that actually – it is a great protection for us all as the philosophy that underpins it – when truly understood – is there to protect consumers from being mis-led. It will be the one place where green-washing is made difficult. But only if understood. Which means that I need to take you on this journey with us and teach you what we are learning so that you too can better read labels and pick up when something isn’t compliant. Watch out for labelling tips and what to look out for and be weary of on our FB page as we walk this road. If we teach you the intricacies of it, it will help you with reading labels in a new way.
In terms of the law, it is a prosecutable offence for any retailer to present products to you on shelves that do not conform. As you learn more, you will be able to even better ask questions about ‘green’ products in stores marketing themselves as ethical by holding them to account if they are leaving you wide open to green-washing, which is the bare faced truth if the labelling doesn’t comply.
We have a task ahead of us as we face all sorts of difficulties. Banting is one of them, we need to set very tight guidelines – which the ACT forces us too anyhow – as to what is acceptable as a Banting label and we will turning to the Noakes Foundation to inform us. The same goes for all alternatives food ‘terms’, paleo, natural (which you are unlikely to see on any label in our store going forward now that we understand why the Act doesn’t allow it because it has been so exploited), organic, free range, pasture reared, raw, vegan, primal, etc, etc.
Where this business was built up on my relationships with real farmers and a culture of trust – and still will be – we will have a heightened focus from here on, on ensuring that all labelling is in alignment with the law as we now understand it truly does actually protect you.
It doesn’t change my philosophy or focus on transparently connecting to real farmers, it doesn’t change the type of producers I will continue to walk miles for but as saw with the chocolate fiasco – the space is getting too large now to act on trust alone. A person who spends their lives living from one con to the next is an accomplished liar and manipulator – they put a lot of effort into making themselves believable. It matters not going forward because we will have structures that protect us now from that kind of deceit.
That part of me that trusts was thoroughly exploited in the chocolate drama and we do have adequate protection actually in terms of the law, and that is in the ACT R146. And we will use it. I will not stop trusting people, but I will accept now and understand that I need to ‘be with’ the reality of the fact that there are people who will exploit that characteristic in others.
So the journey has grown and changed, we are going to be pretty busy over the next couple of months, all focused on that and for me the great task of launching CERA – The Conscious and Ethical Retailers, Producers and Consumer Alliance which is becoming one of the most challenging things I have ever attempted to achieve. Yet, it’s a road I need to walk.
For those of you who missed the previous newsletter and announcement that the online store is closed for now, I apologise for those of you that are inconvenienced by it.
Regrettably it is the part of the business that is draining resources and weakening our focus really. The fraud risk that we have had tall school fees from recently, when added to the costs of keeping it open versus what it gives back, just isn’t right for our journey going forward. I need the resources that were going into that including Sam and Michaels time – better placed – by focusing on the store and getting it fully compliant and formalised.
We also will be cracking on shortly with the store re-design – we need to get the flow right, we’re already out of space, we need to move the tills, take out the back office and get it streamlined to better work with the space constraints.
Sam and Michael’s roles will be changing too, they’re on a steep learning curve right now to learn all the ACTS, understand labelling and to support our new process for checking and approving new produce.
Sam is going to be focused on formalising new suppliers I find that will be checked going forward by CERA when it is ready, Michael is going to start moving into communicating more with you and marketing of new things on the Facebook page so that he can help me with that.
I’m going to take you on a journey too on that page with snippets of important information you need to understand about labels so that you can better spot non-compliant ones and be at ease with ones you can trust.
I’m going on a short break with my family and will be leaving a consultant in store to help Sam and Michael with the labelling exercise. It’s been a very busy and overwhelming month with all the change and dealing with the unpleasantness of our experience with fraud and launching CERA which has been intense. So I’m going to take a breather, dis-connect from it all a bit and soak up some time with my family and re-energize for the next evolution of this special business of ours.
When I come back, I’m going full steam ahead into a new world and context.
The newsletters will go back to focusing on new farms, recipes, labelling education and more understanding of sustainable food once we get through this next vital step but for now until we’re there, we won’t be taking on anymore new producers or products until our new screening process and understanding of the labelling laws is perfect.
Many of you are about to head off on Winter breaks with your families, soak up the nourishment of time with your loved ones and I’ll be in touch.
For short sound bites of things happening in-store and produce coming in – like our FACEBOOK page – The Organic Natural and Whole Food Emporium.
Take care and I’ll chat again soon…the journey is about to change – as always – for the better. Trust me.
Much love, as always, Debbie Logan