Monday, October 29, 2007

Adios, Bulk Spices

First it was the Israeli couscous, then the whole wheat couscous. Today I trekked down to Whole Foods for a small quantity of ground coriander and found the entire display of bulk spices had disappeared.

Used to be there was a shelving unit near the food supplements stocked with big jars of all kinds of commonly used spices--cinnamon, cumin, allspice, fennel seed, mustard seed. You just scooped what you needed into a small plastic bag and rang it up at the cash register.

There were distinct advantages to this system: you only took as much spice as you needed, so it didn't have to sit on a spice rack at home going stale. And you didn't waste the glass jar, plastic lid, labels and whatever other packaging normally comes with spices from the typical spice aisle.

That, at least, used to be one of the attractions of going to Whole Foods, something that set the eco-grocer apart from other purveyors. But now the bulk spices are history, replaced by health books or something. There's no indication the spices were ever there.

"People found out that if they bought less than a quarter-pound they didn't have to pay for it," said one of the clerks, meaning the spices didn't weigh hardly anything in small quantities, so they didn't register on the scale at checkout. The cashiers would panic for a minute, then simply toss the spice bag in with your other groceries, gratis.

"We were losing tons of money, and I think we're one of the last stores to get rid of it," the clerk said.

I suppose it would have been too much trouble to devise some other system so that customers could still purchase the spices they needed--and only what they needed, without the packaging--and pay for them as well. It does make a shopper feel like a bit of a nobody when these changes occur overnight, without any notice--like falling off a cliff where there used to be a road. Don't we deserve at least a bit of signage, a little crumb of info?

Call me naive for thinking there must be a better way...


The Baklava Queen said...

Unbelievable. All they would have had to do was purchase a small scale that would allow you to weigh by the ounce. That's how my local co-op does it, and it makes it so much easier to buy spices, herbs, and loose teas in the quantities I want.

But I guess that would mean trusting the customer too much...

LimeSarah said...

Yeah, ditto to Baklava Queen. My co-op does it that way, and they just use the normal scale that they weigh everything else on. I assume it's more sensitive than the ones at Whole Foods.

Janet said...

My coop seems to use the same scale as they weight the potatoes with, but they do weigh them. What a terrible and stupid move. I love being able to buy herbs and spices in small quantities for just the reasons you name. An aside: I grind/pound coriander seeds in a pestle (or is it the mortar?), which is much more flavorful than ground coriander--even from the bulk jars--in my experience, although for some dishes the texture might be unsatisfactory.

Ed Bruske said...

Thanks, everyone, for weighing in on this one--so to speak.

As my wife points out, there is a sales desk of sorts right in the middle of the food supplements/beauty products section where the bulk spices were (emphasis on were) located. They easily could have had a more sensitive scale located there for weighing and tagging the spices. But it seems to me that Whole Foods is taking every possible opportunity to divest itself of the products and services that set it apart from the run-of-the-mill grocery. As best I can tell from the employees, this is all profit-motivated, and Whole Foods being a public corporation, the shareholders rule the day. Shoppers don't even get a day's notice before things just disappear.

Janet, I also use my mortar and pestle for grinding spices, herbs as well. The flavors are much more intense. But sometimes, as when you are preserving large quantities of food, the bulk spices do beckon.

grace said...

i used to get bulk spices at YES! organic market in cleveland park. perhaps they still offer them?

Anonymous said...

hi guys,
this is really too bad. there are other places in the area that carry the bulk spices... ie: YES! in Adams Morgan.
I know there was a depletion in the selection due to vendor issues, and not being able to get the stock in. This is not an excuse, but a real reason.

Have you EVER worked in retail?
It's not fair to give employees such a hard time about something that they personally didn't decide. And trust me, the decision wasn't made to move towards a mainstream market or make anybody upset.

Be compassionate and loving.

Get over it and get on with your life.
~ an insider ~

Ed Bruske said...

I don't think there's a single word in the orginal story or in any of the comments blaming employees for removal of the bulk spice section. Most irritating is the management's lack of communication with customers or attempt to devise an alternate solution. And sending people elsewhere for this, that and the other thing might have the effect of people taking all of their grocery shopping elsewhere. There is a Harris Teeter moving into our neighborhood. Is that what you mean by "get over it"?