Bill Crawford's Blog

Bad Ingredients - On YOUR Shelves??

When I was working in retail, I had a vendor pitch a soy milk product to me. The product was turned down due to an ingredients issue. It had the same artificial whitener in it that house paint has! (Yes - I was working in the natural products industry at the time!)

The sales rep didn't want to take "no" for an answer - and while I generally do admire persistence - he got to be a bit of a pest. He didn't seem to understand that the size of free fill he offered or the depth of the case stack discounts that he was offering would not overcome the fact that we didn't carry products with artificial colorings.

He flew into town, unbeknownst to me, and proceeded to find three or four items on our shelves that had this same whitening agent in them in stock in our store. He called me after his trip as sure as could be they we would stock his product since the "banned" ingredient was carried in other products. I could hear the surprise in his voice when I thanked him for the list of items that he had found so that we could pull them from our shelves and discontinue them!

In the interest of telling the "whole story" - I know that those products did not contain this artificial color when we approved them. What I don't know, however, is how or when a version of them with changed ingredients got onto our shelves later on. The manufacturers could have made the change without telling anyone. They could have only informed their distributors and brokers, who did not pass this information to their retailers. They could have told their entire distribution chain, including us at retail, and we missed it. In any event, it shouldn't have happened and I don't know where the problem occurred. As soon as we learned about it, we took care of it.

This situation embarrassed me, but, thankfully, it was out of the public's eye. It did get me wondering, however, what we would do if (or when) a customer brought our attention to an ingredient that we said that we didn't carry in a product that they got from our shelf. While it might not be a major, newsmedia-worthy scandal, it would be a breach of faith with the customers that we are in business to serve.

The other day, Progressive Grocer had a story about a great program that Earth Fare is using to proactively deal with these situations. The story can be found on-line at

The crux of the program is that if a customer finds a banned ingredient in a product on an Earth Fare shelf, they will receive a $50 gift card. The program even has a logo and a name - "The Earth Fare Boot Patrol"

What a great way to keep your shelves clean - and to keep your customers focused on what makes you different: the ingredients in your products!

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