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Over Selling Stewart’s

August 27, 2014

For all intents and purposes, in the Capital Region, our convenience store is Stewart’s. Sure, there are convenience stores attached to gas stations and a smattering of bodegas. But Stewart’s is an inextricable part of life in upstate New York.

It took me a few years to really appreciate the place for what it is. Part of that was reprioritizing what I look for in eggs, and growing more comfortable with exchanging some degree of sustainability for eggs with tighter whites.

Stewart’s actually became one of the places I missed during our sabbatical in Princeton. Mostly, for those super fresh eggs.

The kids like Stewart’s for the ice cream. Me? I’m pretty much ruined for all ice cream after Halo Farm. But whenever we drive by a Stewart’s, which around Albany is just about every five minutes, I’m assailed with pleas for ice cream from the back seat.

Last week the little ones finally earned a stop. He got “Fireworks” which is vanilla with a raspberry swirl and pop rocks. She decided upon rainbow sherbet. And as they ate, I watched a fascinating video starring Stewart’s President, Gary Dake.

Did I hear him say that there were no GMO’s in Stewart’s milk? I’m pretty sure I heard him say that. Could it be?

Well, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, you can watch the in store video on the FLB.

So let’s go back to the tape. You can play along at home and see how good a job I did at transcribing. But at about fifty seconds into the video, Gary says,

“We don’t have to rely on somebody certifying to us that they’re not using any Genetically Modified Organisms. We know the farms and we know what they’re doing on them.”

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get dairy feed that doesn’t contain GMOs? I’m told by farmers that it’s practically impossible. And Stewart’s milk doesn’t just come from one farm. It is sourced from dozens of farms close to the Saratoga Springs processing plant.

Now, Gary never says that their milk is GMO free or that the chickens at Thomas Poultry aren’t fed GMO corn or soy in their feed. But the implication is pretty strong.

I just don’t believe it.

Marketing is pretty much the craft of minor deceptions. For the most part I’m okay with it. Who in this day and age thinks their Big Mac will look anything like the picture on the menu board. But this is a little bit different. Take for example what Stewart’s says on their FAQ about antibiotics and milk.

Does your milk have antibiotics in it?
We get our milk from dozens of local farms. We work closely with them and do on site inspections routinely. Every load of milk, which we haul ourselves, is screened for antibiotics, among other things. If antibiotics are present, we refuse the entire load.

That’s true. But that’s also the law. It’s true for all milk. Thank you FDA. Now, there are some less scrupulous farmers who are accused of simply using different antibiotics that aren’t included in the standard screening tests (which only look for between four to six of the most widely used strains of antibiotics). However, many people see the widespread use of subtherapeutic antibiotics in animal feed to be a problem on its face, and whether or not the finished product contains illegal traces of antibiotics doesn’t address this consumer concern.

Here’s the thing. I really like Stewart’s. I do. I buy milk there. I give the milk to my kids. It tastes good. And I really, really enjoy their eggs. And even though some shops may be a bit rough around the edges, I prefer them to any national chain of convenience stores. Stewart’s may very well be the soul of the region.

But this is why it hurts to see such a folksy brand play fast and loose with the truth. Like at about 1:20 in the video when Gary says,

“You’re getting good quality products that are fresh and local just like you get at the farmers market.”

Except the thing is that Thomas Poultry Farm has close to 200,000 birds. The gorgeous green shelled eggs I buy at the farmers market come from a heritage breed bird, and are raised by a farmer that lets his hens roam freely. They are not just like the eggs I buy at Stewart’s. They are very different indeed.

If the farmers market shopper is a target demographic that Stewart’s wants to pursue, that’s great. But I suspect they are a clever bunch and won’t fall for such shenanigans.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2014 12:12 pm

    Relax. Crack open a couple Mountain Brews and try not to think about all of this nonsense so much. Life is too short.

  2. August 27, 2014 5:52 pm

    It is the job of marketing to put lipstick on a pig and make it more attractive. Shocking! You would prefer that Gary Dake make a video and point out all the things that are wrong with Stewart’s?

    He is very active on Twitter. I know this because when I complained that I couldn’t find a place that still steamed its Deli Dogs he responded with the list the same day. Go ahead and try and engage him on this topic and let us know how you do.

  3. addiesdad permalink
    August 27, 2014 11:06 pm

    I agree with Burnt. Gary’s a good guy, he’s just protecting his turf. I don’t think he’s trying to persuade farmers’ market shoppers that Stewarts is an alternative, but rather convince those that do shop at Stewarts that they don’t need to go to a farmers’ market to get quality, local products. What do you think?

  4. August 31, 2014 10:32 am

    I agree that this sort of marketing makes me feel a little icky. I shop at Stewarts for eggs, ice cream, and half and half. Occasionally I get coffee there, if I am in a pinch, as it is cheap and serviceable, and heads and shoulders better (and cheaper!) than DD. We also get eggs, half and half, and ice cream from Trader Joe’s, which for the latter two may actually be better since they are stamped with the “no rBST” guarantee right on them. I maintain that, for eggs, Stewarts is a better option, because, as you point out, they are farm to shop in 3 days.

    Regardless, overall, I think we are really really luck with Stewart’s as our regional convenience store chain. Most people don’t have the level of quality that we enjoy with this.

  5. Ana permalink
    May 25, 2016 11:24 am

    You can not beat an egg from a reliable farm, every farm is different as every farmer is different. I think if you combine Stewarts with your fav Farm that you trust you will do okay. Not everything in nature is perfect either. You also have the reality of the wallet, you have to live from month to month even if it’s not perfect, you just keep trying. There is always growing your own, but that is a full time farming job that engulfs a whole family.

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