I'm really not looking to pick a fight with Trader Joe's, the grocery chain that exclusively sells in-house items (not really) under a so called "private label," who is largely supplied by Ralcorp (NYSE: RAH), which was ConAgra recently bought the food supplier giant (who also supplies food to Costco) for 5 Billion. Oh, before I forget, ConAgra donated 1.7 Million to the No on Prop 37 campaign in successful efforts to defeat GMO labeling their food in California, but I'm not a conspiracy theorist. I'm just a follow the money kind of guy and explains why Trader Joe's refused to support Prop 37 at all.
So, the holiday party shopping season is upon us and you have to buy food at least 50 times this month. Well, my questions is simple. Is Trader Joe's hiding behind a misleading statement (given who their food suppliers are)? I raise this question for many reasons. But I will just throw rocks at their label. Please note this image below is a shoppers guide to understanding their private label and meant to ease any concerns you may have.
And yet, for a grocery chain that exclusively sells in-house items (not really), Trader Joe's still sells farm raised salmon and other fish. The management has known this to be on the dreaded "Red List" and on 3/14/2011 in a statement on their website called, "A note to our customers about Trader Joe's seafood," the committed to the following goal: all our seafood purchases will shift to sustainable sources by Dec. 31, 2012. This applies to all formats of seafood we offer. And yet, the science overwhelmingly clear that farm raised salmon have est. seven time the level of PCB's than wild caught, are fed chemicals to give them color, and are fed pellets of chicken feces, corn meal and soy (the two largest GMO crops), genetically modified canola oil and much more good stuff.
But wait a minute! The label clearly says, "No GMOs!" It clearly states on their website that, "Our customer can be assured that all products in Trader Joe's private label are sourced from non-genetically modified ingredients." This nice lady believes it.
Well, then who am I to question Trader Joe's? It's not like I work for them and my name is Pat St. John and my title Vice President of Marketing for Trader's Joe's West Coast Division and I was quoted on the Organic Consumer Association's website for clearly contradicting that Company's quality assurance statement. In the article called "Trader Joe's & US Supermarkets Claim Impossibility of Going GMO-Free," Pat St. John said the chain sources organic products whenever possible (meaning not all), and objects to being targeted by Greenpeace for selling GM foods, when 60% - 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," St. John said. Now here's my favorite line: "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. To test down to zero percent is impossible now." But surely the CEO Chairman and CEO Dan Bane cares and stands by his company's statements especially after claiming to shift to sustainable sources by Dec., right? Nope. Radio silence. *Note: Dec. 31 is after the holiday rush and this statement was made well before ConAgra bought out Trader Joe's largest supplier of food.
Today, I believe ConAgra controls what Dan Bane will do and won't do and I suspect that new words are being brainstormed now and will be switched on their website in the coming days. The original Joe - Joe Coulombe - is gone and ConAgra is in. Now, don't get me wrong, I would sing a different tune if Dan Bane went to the Non-GMO project to get verified and partnered with Hubbs Seaworld Research Institute to implement their groundbreaking aquaculture program for truly sustainable fisheries management. I also don't blame Joe 100% as it appears he was doing it right in the late 60's and 70's until he left and GMOs entered in the food system big in the 90's. Listen to good ole Joe talk about his story so you can see how far off they've come.
So, if you voted Yes on Prop 37... let's ban together, stay out of Trader Joe's, and force Dan Bane to do something crazy. Either label it (products) themselves or test down to zero, which are both very possible. Or you can Label It Yourself (#LIY)! And in the meantime (for San Diegans and North County Residents), join/demo a CSA, visit the San Diego Public Market, go to the local farmer's market listed by Edible San Diego, go to a farm to table restaurant, download the Non-GMO shopping Guide, eat from a community garden you trust, join my Meetup Non GMO Parenting and Cooking for Moms, Dads, Singles + More, and become a member of Slow Food San Diego.
I swear to google you can find a CSA with 100 miles of you if your town population is more than 5,000.
PS. If I've been shot, we know Trader Joe's put a hit out on me.