Co-op drops non-local, conventional produce after outcry

New Mexico’s largest member-owned natural foods grocer has rethought its produce practices once again.

La Montañita Co-op will stop carrying the nonorganic fruits and vegetables it introduced in stores this year, a spokeswoman said, thus reversing a decision that had sparked outrage among some members and employees.

In early 2016, the six-store co-op began selling nonorganic or “conventional” versions of eggplant, avocados and other produce from the “Clean 15,” a list fruits and vegetables that the nonprofit Environmental Working Group has identified as having the lowest pesticide residue levels. Co-op leaders told the Journal in March it was one way to lower prices and remain competitive in the crowded grocery marketplace.

La Montañita marketing manager Lea Mae Quale said in a recent email to the Journal that the decision to carry the “Clean 15” generated some positive feedback from customers who appreciated the price point.

However, a vocal contingent railed against the decision.

“Do you really think that offering a lower price with lower quality is the answer? Good luck with that. You’re going in the wrong direction,” one commenter posted on the Co-op’s Facebook page.

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Another posted: “La Montanita WHAT ARE YOU THINKING??? … Anyone wanting lower price can go to any other store in the Albuquerque area to get conventional produce, why would you want it here?”

A group called “Take Back the Co-op” — described on its website as “member-owners … working to preserve and strengthen the core cooperative values at our Co-op” — listed removal of those items among its platforms on its website.

Quale said the 15 new products have been discontinued as of this month.

“The voices of the community, team members and customers made it clear that stocking those items were not a viable option for La Montañita, at this time,” Quale wrote.

That does not mean La Montañita offers organic produce exclusively; Quale noted that the 40-year-old, Albuquerque-based co-op has always sold non-organic fruits and vegetables since it sources some items from local growers who are not certified organic. But the non-organic produce that is not local has been eliminated.

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