Thursday, September 16, 2010

We Are No Longer Members of Annie's Organic Buying Club of South Florida

Way back in March of 2009, our family made the healthy-eating decision of joining an organic produce buying club; sort of like a CSA, where our money was pooled together each week with other consumers like us, and our combined buying power allowed us great prices on a variety of farm-fresh organic produce. 

While we still firmly believe in the power of buying clubs and CSAs, and we have truly enjoyed the bountiful harvest, it has come to our attention that perhaps the particular club we joined has potentially grown too big, too fast, and whatever small problems it may have had are still there, still unaddressed, and now magnified and exasperated by the exponential growth of the membership base.

As I had previously blogged about how much we were enjoying the club, I feel it is my duty to my readers to provide an update, now that our family’s position has changed.  I write this as a mom blogger, an organic consumer, and also as the holder of a business degree.

All businesses have their problems.  The ones who survive are the ones who acknowledge those problems, and work with their people to evolve and find ways to learn from, and deal with those issues, and to do so in a timely manner, before those issues become too big and too complex to handle.  Those successful businesses know their customers, and they take the time to listen to them.  Not just the good feedback; but the bad feedback too. They also understand that their staff are customers, too.  Complaints and concerns are acknowledged.  The causes for those concerns are explored, and solutions are found.  Messengers are not shot down, and those who don’t like the way things are done are not told to sit down and shut up, or worse, made to feel like outsiders.  Communication is key, and how much easier could it be, for a club such as this, where each and every member is already of your target market, and everyone is working toward the same goal?  Yet, it has become apparent that the ways of this particular club deviate from what I have just outlined above.    It’s easy to see what will soon become of this club, if its management continues to go on the defensive, turn a blind eye, and refuse to streamline processes.  Sadly, things went as far as turning away offers for help in reorganizing and restructuring from its own members who wanted to see the club succeed.  Those members became part of the outcasts.  It just goes to show that you can’t help people who don’t want to be helped in the first place. 

Below is a copy of my e-mail to Annie herself, detailing my concerns, and our request to withdraw from the club.  Annie did take the time to respond to me, however, I did not get the assurance that the root problems were going to be acknowledged and addressed.  Don’t get me wrong.  Annie is a wonderful person, who took a huge chance, and has a monstrosity of a job, keeping the flow of fresh produce coming.  However, as I told Annie, the ends don’t always justify the means.   Annie did graciously invite us back to the club at a future date; however the nail still has yet to be hit on the head.  Below is my e-mail:

Annie,

You know I've been with the group since almost the very beginning. We've e-mailed a lot, and (your husband) and I chatted in person a few times about the challenges with the club.  I even approached you and volunteered my services to help streamline some of your processes, re-do your spreadsheets, and I even pulled strings and tried to find you some other software that might take the place of the spreadsheets to make life easier for managing the club.

Every business has its problems.  It's up to the owner and management to acknowledge those problems and find ways deal with them.  I'm not going to be coy and pretend I don't know what's been going on between you and some of your coordinators, because they are my close friends, this is a small, tight-knit community, and we all talk.  Annie, I know you care about the club, and I hope you understand that the members and coordinators do as well.  If someone is bringing up a concern, it would be to your benefit to take a less defensive stance, and keep an open mind.  Nobody is trying to insult you or the way you do business.  If they didn't care, they wouldn't be upset, and they certainly wouldn't be fighting for change. 

Unfortunately for many, it would seem that change would have come too late.  No customer in any industry wants to hear "What? Why do you have a problem with what we're doing?", or "You are the only one who has complained about this."  Annie, most people with complaints do not take the time out to report those through the proper channels.  In business, it's called the Rule of Eleven.  One happy customer will tell one friend.  One unhappy customer will tell eleven, and those eleven will tell eleven more, and so on.  In (our town), our gossip line is lovingly nicknamed "The Coconut Telegraph", and many have succumbed to it.  Going forward, I hope you will bear in mind that if you do hear of a problem, it's most likely indicative of multiple people having similar issues. 


Annie, our family has greatly enjoyed being part of the club over this past year and a half.  However, just like with any product or service, I have to consider the bigger picture.   I always try to listen to both sides of a story.  When one friend has poured her heart and soul into helping the club, only to be met by delays of information, conflicting data, multiple last-minute revisions, constant surprises week after week, angry customers over issues that are beyond her control, and her concerns are largely ignored, that is disheartening.  When I hear of another friend telling me almost the exact same thing, Annie, that just blows my mind.  With the way these coordinators are being treated, the time commitment they are expected to put in, the stress, the aggravation, and the continued turnaround, do you know what phrase immediately popped into my mind?  "Sweat shop".  Annie, I have no qualms telling you that what you're doing week after week to these many volunteer coordinators of yours is borderline abuse.

Deep down inside, Annie, I know you are not a spiteful person, and you truly did want to bring healthy eating to our communities.  However, sometimes the ends don't justify the means.

Annie, at this time, our family will be discontinuing our club membership.  Healthy eating is one thing, but it's not worth the price of watching my friends suffer.

All the best to you, (your husband), and your family.

Faye

We are all blessed to live where we do, and to have the ability to use our consumer dollars to make a difference.  Our friends and family are looking forward to exploring other organic options, and we look forward to doing business with companies that take a holistic approach to ensure that not only are the products sound, but so are the business practices that get them there. 

14 comments:

  1. Hi Faye,

    I am sorry to hear about your experience. Some years ago Annie's Club got great produce from a distributor in Sarasota called Global Organic but then she owed them money and refused to pay so the account was closed. I know other people have set up buying clubs with them since then and they have also set up some clubs for students on campuses in Florida. If you have some friends you could form your own club or call them and see if they know of anyone else around your area who is running a group. It sounds like you have the background to do this yourself. Good luck because your family should be able to keep eating organic at an affordable price and buying clubs are the best. (Although in my day we called them Co-ops. I am old.)
    Lilly

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  2. Lilly, thank you for your vote of confidence ;) My father retired from 30 years as the executive chef for one of the top 10 country clubs in Canada, so I've watched him working closely with suppliers since I was a child. Still, at this point, I don't think starting a club is in my cards ;) However, I would gladly help out others, hoping to do so.

    Annie did share some of her story on her personal blog, about how she and her husband first began with an organic retail location, which had its struggles, and is no longer in operation. She does firmly believe in bringing affordable organic eating to everyone, but you saw my points above.

    I have several friends who also gave the club at least one try, but are also looking for alternatives, too. Please do share your suggestions and experiences :)

    Thanks Lilly!

    Faye

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  3. That's really unfortunate. Your concerns were well written and I believe handled in the best possible manner. Hopefully it will bring on change within her business and will not get her back up too much. Such a shame.

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  4. Try Bee Heaven Farm's CSA. This is our ninth season, and our fifth serving the Keys. You can read about us at www.redlandorganics.com/CSA.htm.
    We still have open spots for Keys members- in fact, if we don't get more, we may have to stop Keys delivery, and that's something we DO NOT want to do! We supply ONLY locally-grown (South Florida), certified organic (or pesticide-free) produce from our farm partners, directly from the farms, for 20 weeks in the winter growing season. We have sold to Annie's in the past (and when they used to be Delicious Organics). We lost many customers to them when they set up shop in the Keys. Maybe you can pass the word along and we can get them back... we have 5 pickup sites, from Key Largo to Key West, and we deliver on Sunday, starting the week before Thanksgiving. Check us out. Enrollment deadline is October 10th. email us at office@beeheavenfarm.com for the application (it's not online).

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  5. Margie, thank you for sharing about Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics CSA!! We are signed up, along with one of our friends, and former Annie's coordinator. Can't wait for the awesome, local organics all winter long! We especially can't wait to try the honey shares!

    We've got some more friends, also former Annie's members, coming out of the woodwork, who recently left the club out of frustration over a lot of the same disorganization, but they are so pleased to have Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics as another organic produce option! :)

    Thanks again, Margie!

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  6. Faye,
    Thanks for posting this, it was very informative. I have tried a few organic produce buying clubs here, and they all seem to have problems. I am glad you found the CSA. Bee Heaven has been active the longest (i think), but now there are a few more (Teena's Pride).

    Lily - Annie's is NOT a cooperative, though it has more elements of a coop than many of the local buying clubs. As far as I know there are no food cooperatives in south Florida.

    South Florida needs a true food cooperative!

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  7. Hi Faye,

    I know you wrote this awhile ago, but I just wanted to say that you are NOT alone. Annie has been doing bad business for ages. We recently found another local buying club, and we were quick to drop Annie's and switch. Never been happier!

    Your concerns were valid, and many of us who had no other choice but to use Annie's feel (felt) the exact same way.

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  8. FANTASTIC NEWS!!

    It's been a while since we left Annie's, but it appears the demand for organics has not stopped!

    If you haven't already heard, the Help Yourself restaurant in Key West has expanded! Their highly successful Monday Market has evolved into taking over the retail space in the adjacent laundromat, and Help Yourself will have a full-time retail store, as of tomorrow, April 14, 2012! We were very proud to donate to the construction costs, and can't wait to do our shopping there!

    Even more great news!

    While we are very sad to see our longtime Albertsons grocery store closing, a friend of mine confirmed with an Albertsons manager that Publix will be moving from their Searstown location to the old Albertsons location! A Publix employee confirms that this move should happen sometime in the next six weeks. That's not all! Where Publix sits now will soon be a dream come true: a Greenwise organic market is coming to Key West! Many of us have been dreaming of having a Whole Foods in Key West. This Greenwise Market is going to make a lot of healthy eaters very happy ;)

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  9. I'm so glad I came across this. We live here in Key West and have a son that is sensitive when it comes to the foods he eats. Organic is just about the only thing we can give him. I thought I'd hit the jack pot when I found Annie's but it took less than a month to start having issues. There was little to no communication, and my issues weren't addressed properly, so we left. I've been looking around to see if there were other, cost effective options. Finding out that there is soon to be a whole foods store, plus the help yourself market is amazing.

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  10. I'm sorry to hear Annie's is still having problems. The good news is that we do have increasing alternatives in Key West. While we didn't get the Greenwise Market we were hoping for, the new larger Publix does carry quite an extensive variety of organic produce. The prices are also very reasonable! In the peak of summer, I remember walking into the store and seeing a huge display of organic peaches front and center, right in the very front of the produce section for $1.99/lb. There were even a few times when organic cantaloupe was cheaper than conventionally-grown, displayed just a few feet away. Organic doesn't have to be expensive at all.

    Also, if your son is experiencing food sensitivities, I highly recommend Dr. Ross Williams over at the White Street Healing Arts center. He's extremely knowledgeable about nutrition and holistic healing, and he's been a tremendous help to me.

    Wishing you all the best!

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  11. I am a new member to Annie's and wish I had researched further before joining. The website says local organic produce. There were tomatoes in my box from Mexico. I don't consider Mexico local and are there pesticide regulations in Mexico? I'm not thrilled or entirely disappointed in my share. Just perplexed!

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  12. I'm sorry to hear that. When I was still part of the club, only a few things ever came local, and local also included the state of Georgia. From speaking with another former Annie's coordinator, who ended up starting her own buying club in the West Palm Beach area, Annie's doesn't buy produce direct from farms; it comes from a single distributor, who brings in things from all around the globe. Expect to have kiwi from New Zealand, too.

    If you're looking for strictly local, check out CSA's in your area. We loved Bee Heaven Farm/Redland Organics. They have a 20-week winter CSA, and everything is grown in the Homestead/Redlands area. Your farmers markets might be a good option, too. Many farmers cannot afford the full organic certification process, but that doesn't mean they don't actually employ organic and sustainable methods. Talk to your local farmers and get to know them :)

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  13. I was with Annie for about a month. It was a nightmare.

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  14. I joined Annie's two weeks ago and received my first shipment. The strawberry's were bruised, pear's had worm holes, and they gave me 5 collard leaves. I have no idea how they thought 5 collard leaves could feed a family of 4. This company's idea of affordable organic food is unrealistic. I would never recommend this company to anyone.

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