I’d like to follow up on my last entry about expressing my concerns about the Choices takeover of Drive Organics. I gave a copy of my letter to the staff and to one of the current managers of DO, Riley, who was also the manager under the old ownership. I spoke to him for a while. He thanked me for writing the letter and said it meant a lot to the staff. I also received a phone call from the Choices Community Relations spokesperson and nutritionist, Nicole.
Both of these folks were open to hearing my concerns and did their best to address them. Nicole spoke to me for about 45 minutes, going through the concerns in my letter one by one. She told me about the Choices commitment to local buyers. They de-list imported produce when local produce is available, but if organic is not available in BC, they will carry local BC non-organic, and also an organic imported option. That sounds fair to me. Currently, the DO location is still 100% organic produce, but that might be changing.
They are also committed to sustainability, and do their best with composting, recycling, and so on. In fact, Nicole wrote a book for Choices called Becoming a Sustainabilist! They carry Oceanwise seafood and support labelling to identify GMO products. They are not 100% GMO free. But they support programs like “Plea for the Bee.” I was really happy about this. You may recall I wrote about bees a while ago on this blog, and have been involved in activism to help save the bees.
Choices also supports cultural diversity, and inclusivity of people with disabilities and mental challenges. Nicole said they give appropriate work to people with these types of challenges, when possible. Choices also give $150,000 to $200,000 per year to community and charitable organizations such as Farm Folk/City Folk, a school nutrition program, Food Bank donations, and so on.
In regards to my concerns about long-time DO employees being forced to leave, Nicole said that Choices did not make anyone leave. She said piercing is an issue with WorkSafeBC for some roles, and that Choices needs to follow the rules for food safety. However, everyone is grandfathered in at the DO location to keep whatever piercings they currently have. So that sounds fair and reasonable to me. They gave severance to people who wanted to leave, and honoured all years of service at the DO location.
Choices is family-owned and started in Kits 25 years ago, in 1990. They have been pioneers in helping local producers, as well as bringing in US products that weren’t previously available here. The previous DO owners actually picked up the store as part of a bigger purchase and weren’t interested in developing it. The new owners want to carry the best selection of organic, natural, and specialty foods in the neighbourhood, while keeping the special vibe that we all love about DO.
One thing Nicole told me was that they wouldn’t expand the meat section, in recognition of the high proportion of vegetarian and vegan customers who frequent the store. She said the meat would be in a back corner. However, one of the first changes I noticed was that there is now a big meat section straight ahead from the front door, where the San Pellegrino water used to be. However, she said they will continue to carry only specialty meats that are from animals raised in pastures, with no antibiotics or hormones. Someone else will have to check whether that is true, and I will continue to avoid that part of the store.
So all in all, well done, Choices! I was very impressed, and felt a lot better about continuing to shop at DO after this conversation.