Thursday, January 31, 2013

Union Market chicken post dated

It's hard to buy organic chicken in the hood in a hurry. So when I don't have a lot of time to shop I head for Union Market, on Court Street, where I still buy three things: their organic, Murray's and occasional rotisserie chicken, garlic-stuffed olives, and their ancho peppers. I am not a fan of their service, their high fresh produce prices, and their frequently yellowed salad leaves. The unfriendly, sometimes uncouth service just perplexes me, and I assume it comes from the top. Trickle down. Are they treated poorly, paid badly? Or does the ownership just not give a toss about customer service?

I had sworn, after Vince was actually shouted at by a guy in the bakery, that I would never shop there again. Then I crawled back. For that bloody chicken. Quite bloody, as it turned out.

So, I'm there, and I head for the chicken counter. No more organic chicken in sight, and Smart Chicken has taken  the place by storm. Ugh. There is nothing smart about Smart Chicken. There is one row of Murray's chicken. I pick up a packet of wings in which the juice and blood seem rather more copious than usual, and look at the Murray's sell-by date, as I always do, at least since the beginning of the Chicken Wars, with Key Food. [that link is worth visiting]

I can't see the Murray's date, because the Union Market label with its own sell by date and price has been stuck right over the Murray's date. Hm. I pick up another packet. And another. I look at six, seven packets. Every single one has the original sell by date completely obscured by the store label.

So I peel the Union Market label back.

Beneath it, the Murray's label says the sell by/use by is January 27th.

The Union Market store label says the sell by is February 3rd. Six days later.

I go to the butcher counter and ask to see a manager. Why? asks the butcher abruptly. I explain. Loudly. Wordlessly, he goes to the chicken fridge, scoops up every packet of Murrays, and dumps them all on the counter behind his work station. He pulls on a pair of latex gloves, snap! looks at the waiting customers and barks, Next!


Excuse me, I say.

Yes? Pissed off.

I would still like to see a manager.

Wordlessly, turns to his wall phone: Manager to meat counter.

I wait. And wait. And wait.

Does he have to come from far, I ask, politely, and with only one eyebrow raised.

I paged him!

Please page him again.

Manager to meat counter!

I wait.

You should wait by the cash registers, says the angry butcher. Why? I ask. He'll get there faster, he says. The cash registers are about 40 feet away in direct line of site. I watch them.

Finally a man in a white coat makes his way towards the meat counter. I intercept him. Brief annoyance on his face until he hears my story. He is very polite. He says he has only been there two weeks and it was an accident, that the Smart Chicken labels and dates had been put on the Murrays, and that  they would be removed at once.

Really.'s an accident, he is aware of it, and nothing was done about it?

So...interesting that the labels have, without exception, been pasted exactly over the original sell by date, I tell him. I mean, I have never seen that. I can always see the original label. That is the reason I still shop here.

No response to that one.

He still insists, still politely, that it was unintentional.

I don't believe him.

Buyer? Beware.

February 18th: Note response from Union Market in comments.

Previous Union Market Story:

I can't help you, I'm busy  [...also worth reading]


  1. Ugh the state of our food system (and basic decency when it comes to making a buck) is in such shambles! So disappointing—was always glad that we had somewhat better access in NY, but clearly not always. Thanks for posting this.

  2. You make me remember those days years ago -- probably before you were born -- when I knew the butcher here, and he would telephone when he got in cuts that he thought we would like. No more. I am lucky enough to have a good market about 20 miles away that I visit occasionally.

    1. When I was little we went to our local, personal butcher, too, Diane. Mr van Vuuren. There was sawdust on his shop floor.

      We do have two real butchers within walking distance. I have hitherto had tunnel vision when visiting them, buying only beef,lamb or pork (and recently, a bunny wabbit...eek), but now it is time to investigate - thoroughly - their chicken.

  3. I cannot believe this! Without you figuring it out they would have gone ahead and sold you (and others) that old chicken! Ugh.

    1. Yep. at least it wasn't 11 days past sell by, like the Key Food D'Artagnan!

  4. Wow. About time you cross Union Market off your shopping list totally? Well, maybe you can still trust the olives and peppers?

  5. Horrible. You should alert New York 1, or one of the other local TV news outlets that has customer service type reports, about this. Aside from how wrong it is, many people could get very sick from something like this.

  6. Too bad the grocery stores in NYC do not have strict ratings like the restaurants do. Surely Union Market would be demoted to a C for a stunt like that.

  7. Despite being not-so-much-meat-avores, we have a wonderful butcher shop in our little town. We count ourselves lucky

  8. I was an idiot not to have taken pictures. No point in squealing to the news media without an image.

  9. It's a little rough, at $6.50 a lb, but how can we get you some of these chickens:

    They are part of the Peconic Land Trust network (my land partner for garlic farming), but on the North Fork (where I intended to be).

    1. Frank, my Edible editor emailed me yesterday to rap me over the knuckles for buying Murrays. But, as you and small-scale prices are rough, and we, as a nation, have been spoiled (...literally?) by cheap food. Food is not naturally cheap.

      I think we may be re-thinking a few things. Here on Henry Street.

      I must get my paws on real chickens, and eat them less often.

    2. I agree 100% It is hard to change one's spending habits after a life of low cost eating. I think we should spend less on real estate and more on real food. The cost per calorie in this country is probably the lowest in history (but I can't back that up with research) and the cost per square foot is the highest.

      Incidentally, I buy murrays because its the best my neighborhood has to offer and its better than purdue and tyson and the grocer branded stuff. But I also buy halal chickens, sans head. They are still low cost, thinner, and there "ethical standing" a mystery. My presumption is its better, but again, no research.

    3. Ja. This is where the charges of elitism against local and organic food, become relevant. It's all very well to look askance at one kind of chicken, but what if that kind is the best under the circumstances.

    4. I can already hear you don't have to buy chicken, do you? Argh. Betsy and I have been working on buying a pig for four couples for years now, but our "affordable" whole pig butchered and packaged frozen has been elusive.

  10. Oh, this is too good. I love the story and your persistence and in a loud voice. I'm all for challenging where called for, and have had my own Safeway moments and now don't shop there anymore.

  11. So, so sad to read this, especially after our dinner of organic chicken cooked with lentils and served with some sinful mashed potatoes. I don't live in New York, though. I live in Concord, Mass. Otherwise, I'd be over in a flash with a plate for you and yours.

    I hope you had something truly delicious for dinner this evening.

  12. I once witnessed my dear father, (a consummate on-the-road salesman who sold bar-code technology to Macy's, Burdines, Dillards, etc), approach a sullen and mean-spirited cashier at a pet store. With his grandfatherly voice, he softly said "Young man, I know that this isn't your business, but you represent someone's hard work; you will ruin this business with your attitude. Grow up and do your job with a smile and a good attitude". I Will never forget that comment, chapeau bas, Papa.

  13. Great story. Sadly all too familiar.

  14. You need to Tweet this Marie, (if you tweet, I don't!).

    I would never shop there again, this is a scam, and it happens all the time.
    No reason for the butcher to be rude to you either. My butchers are the nicest men and do anything for me, special cuts, etc.
    WOW. This is unbelievable. (not really).
    Have a nice weekend. S.

    1. My blog posts go out as tweets :-)

      It IS anomalous that the butchers at Union Market are so rude. All the other butchers I know are very nice people, which is kind of funny. All that blood.

  15. nice work Marie! I'm never going here again.

  16. Marie,

    It’s never easy for a retailer to hear of a customer experience such as yours, much less read about it on the web. We can promise you that it’s contrary to all Union Market policy to deliberately mislead a customer, or even to fake information if you don’t know the answer to a question. Beyond that, it’s a clear violation of the law to willfully mislabel fresh product on the stand, and in the Internet era it’s suicidal to intentionally embark on such a practice.

    The Murray’s Chicken that you found on the stand at Court Street had been labeled by a relatively new employee, who used the wrong scale labels (they were labeled as Smart Chicken) and then placed the labels incorrectly, and inappropriately, on the packages, as you’ve described. We regard this less as the employee’s fault and more a failure of management to properly explain the task at hand, and to follow-up on how the job was done. The staffer has been shown the right way, and the department head has been spoken to, and the butcher on duty has been reprimanded for his attitude and actions. We apologize for the poor treatment you received.

    Our store manager’s response to you, about how this was an “accident,” may have been impulsive, but it was not disingenuous, for the reasons stated above: misrepresentation of product in any way is the polar opposite of Union Market’s policies and practices.

    We will contact you directly so that we can speak personally about this, if you’d like, in hopes of answering any further questions and addressing any other concerns or observations that you have.

    Again, our regrets that this happened, and our thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    1. Thank you for your response, which is about as good as they get.


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