How Erica Welton started Costco’s organic business and founded the first U.S. all organic restaurant
Erica Welton is the founder of The Organic Coup, the first organically certified fast food restaurant in the United States; she also kick started Costco’s multi-billion dollar organic food business. At Sustainable Sunday, Erica will tell her story about Costco, creating a restaurant she’d be happy to take her family to, and how organic farming is necessary for sustainability.
For Erica, it all started when she became pregnant and gained a hyper awareness of what she was putting in her body; that’s when she became a Whole Foods shopper. At the same time, she was working as a food buyer for Costco and was given the challenge: what are you buying elsewhere that you can’t get at Costco? Erica’s immediate reaction was for Costco to bring in organic milk and other organic food that she buys for her own home at Whole Foods. This was in 2003 and people looked at her like she was crazy. The feedback she received was that organic food was a fad and that Costco doesn’t chase fads. But Erica had drunk the kool aid and loved what Whole Foods was doing with organic and how happy their customers were. Through Erica’s sheer persistence, Costco did bring in organic milk and it sold hundreds of millions of dollars; organic milk is now a signature item and one of Costco’s best selling products.
In 2006, Erica followed up organic milk with Petaluma poultry and organic chicken. Some of her organic programs at Costco went national and some even went global. Currently, the business is doing $9 billion a year in certified organic goods and Costco is the #1 certified organic retailer in America. At this level of business, Costco has made a positive impact on how business is done for farmers, which in turn has made a positive impact on the planet as a whole.
By 2014, Erica felt she had done everything she had set out to do at Costco, her organic certified food program had gained a life of its own. While contemplating what to do next, she always kept in the back of her mind, what’s the right thing to do? She had noticed that people had stopped buying the blue box mac & cheese and brand name potato chips while in the grocery store, but when it came to eating out with her family the choices were rather limited. She wanted to feel good about where she was going and what her family was eating. While some fast food restaurants appear to be healthier than others, they still serve soda and they still inject their buns and chicken breasts with additives to make the food appear plump, juicy and fresh. Erica’s vision was a fast food experience where all items on the menu are USDA certified organic, from the tater tots to the soda machine to the chicken, wraps and buns, and from there, The Organic Coup was born.
At Sustainable Sunday, Erica will discuss how organic farming is crucial for sustainability and how they go hand-in-hand. This is a conversation that some people might not be ready for as it dispels the myth that all plant-based products are sustainable: in many cases they are not; mostly because many plant-based products are made from genetically modified crops grown with pesticides that are harming our water and land. It’s about a respect for life and not dumping chemicals into the ecosystem. Erica puts it this way, "Respecting our planet’s gifts and building upon those gifts generation by generation" should be our number one ambition. People really do need to know what they are buying and where their money is going.
To hear Ms. Welton’s expert insights on certified organic food and farming, you’ll need to attend Sustainable Sunday. There, you’ll also hear from Larry Goldzband (How Climate Change will Impact Residents at Home & Work in the Bay Area) and Jim Coyle (expert in residential sustainability). There will also be food, drinks and a silent auction. All donations to Sustainable Lafayette enable us to enhance and expand our community outreach activities, reaching thousands of Lamorinda residents. Read more on Sustainable Sunday.