Avi Kaner Hopes To Kick This Can Down The Road

Avi Kaner is a poster boy for civic involvement.

He’s chaired Westport’s Board of Finance, and served as 2nd selectman. He and his wife Liz are active members of Chabad of Westport, and lead philanthropic efforts in this town and Israel.

Now, Avi Kaner is a poster boy — and cover subject — in a battle against expansion of a New York law.

When Crain’s New York Business ran a long story on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to expand the state’s nickel-deposit law to include plastic and glass bottles containing juice, coffee and tea concoctions, plus sports and energy drinks, they illustrated it in print and online with a photo of a less-than-pleased Kaner — holding plastic bottles.

(Photo/Buck Ennis for Crain’s New York Business)

This issue has nothing to do with the Westporter’s civic work. His day job is co-owner of Morton Williams. That’s the family-owned chain of supermarkets, primarily in Manhattan, focused on fresh, organic, specialty and international foods.

Crain’s says Kaner “isn’t relishing the thought of folks bringing in a lot more bottles and cans” to his West 57th Street location. Morton Williams recently spent $10 million, turning the ground floor and lower level into retail space.

“We keep this place nice and clean, in fitting with the neighborhood,” Kaner told Crain’s. “The last thing we need is people bringing more of their garbage here.”

Customers can return up to 240 items a day. They are first stored near a street-facing window, then in the basement.

“It’s not an optimal use of space in a store where rent is $200 per square foot and every inch of shelving counts,” Crain’s says. Workers who sort the returnables earn $15 an hour.

Kaner is not anti-environment.

“Anything that can be done to prevent waste and help the planet is a good thing,” he told Crain’s. “But the economics of recycling don’t work for a business like ours.”

To read the full story — including its possible impact on curbside recycling — click here.

(Hat tip: John Karrel)

20 responses to “Avi Kaner Hopes To Kick This Can Down The Road

  1. Kaner’s bitching is a typical NIMBY reaction….says he’s all for the environment but when it come to giving up ANYTHING, not so much.

  2. Do Good meets Reality and the Law of Unintended Consequence….

  3. Joyce Barnhart

    Does his store still use plastic bags, too?

  4. There’s a world-wide problem with plastic, as evidenced by the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and others. Recycling machines, such as those at Stop & Shop, would save a lot of space in Mr. Kaner’s stores and help prevent more plastic pollution. I don’t see how he can say, “Anything that can be done to prevent waste and help the planet is a good thing,” and be against expanding bottle recycling.

  5. Do not sell products packaged in plastic or except returns. Many premium specialty brands and products are making the switch to non-plastic packaging. Revenues might slip at first but over time the problem will be overcome.

  6. “Anything that can be done to prevent waste and help the planet is a good thing,” he told Crain’s. “But the economics of recycling don’t work for a business like ours.”

    If it wouldn’t be so sad, I would laugh.

    So the economics of recycling don’t work for a business like his.
    If they don’t work for supermarkets who are frequented by thousands of people every day, for whom shall the economics of recycling work to show and educate customers that there are other ways of presenting and selling food? It’s all about education and to show other ways to start changing the consciousness of the consumer.

    The website shows that the company runs or owns 17 supermarkets in the Metropolitan area, what a fantastic chance to show that it can be done differently. I understand that it is much more difficult for a mom and pop grocery store, but not for a chain of 17 supermarkets. A supermarket chain that size has a certain buying power and has some influence on the producer.

    But maybe Mr Kaner should start by himself and rethink his system, maybe he should think about changing the product range or buying from producers and companies who already change their packings or avoid them totally were it is possible.

    If you look on google at the photos from the Morton Williams supermarkets you see plastic, plastic, plastic, as far as you can see, from precut fruits in huge plastic bowls to fruits and veggies who actually have a packaging by nature and are in need for additional packing, all wrapped in plastic.

    And don’t say it’s not possible, there is no excuse. In Europe single supermarkets and super market chains popping up on every corner becoming either totally “plastic free” in a short period of time (yes, the argument it takes years doesn’t count) or starting with plastic free aisles where all products are unwrapped, specially in the fruit and veggie section, expanding it by the week to other products and the consumers appreciate it and ask for more plastic free products. It’s a learning process.

    It’s also a learning process for the consumer and that he has to realize that he has to get out of his comfort zone. There is no need for peeled eggs in a plastic container.

    Instead of complaining that the economics of recycling don’t work for his company he should turn it around and use it as a marketing chance for his company to become the first plastic free supermarket in NY. I’m sure there will be enough consumers who will appreciate such a decision and the momentum and hype with the right marketing strategy will be on his side.

    If he stays stubborn and doesn’t want to move, then the consumer with his spending power has to move him, he wouldn’t be the first company who would be pushed into the right direction.

    If it works in Europe, why shouldn’t it work here?

    • John – this has nothing to do with my company. These are not my rules. In NYC every building – office and residential – has recycling bins. Returning items to a supermarket does not help the environment at all. The intent of the system is for the State to collect the deposit tax and never return it. Regarding what we sell, we are not manufacturers – people want soda and other drinks which are not sold in paper containers. Fruit salads are sold in plastic everywhere and we promote recyclable containers. Even our plastic bags are recyclable.
      Regarding the economics, Crain’s is a NY business publication and people who read it have an interest in NY business. Supermarkets in the city are closing right and left. We are one of the few independents left in NYC who are growing. Running a business in NYC has far different challenges than in the suburbs. We pay $200 a foot for space and are very limited in space. In the suburbs similar stores pay a fraction of that and of course have much more space. The minimum wage in NYC has gone up by 70% in four years yet NY State pays us the same handling fee.

      • Avi-none of the negative commenters have any idea what it is like to run your type of business. Your customers want choice yet your space is limited. And square footage costs are astronomical. Add to that all the food safety requirements, temp requirements (I know as we make technology for supermarkets) and it is a costly recipe.

        If someone does not like plastic then don’t buy the product that comes in plastic. Don’t penalize the distributor. You have no choice.

        The more costs put on you the more difficult it becomes to stay in business. Then what? Buy everything on amazon? Where will they take the plastic?

        All too crazy.

  7. William Strittmatter

    It strikes me that Mr. Kaner is basically saying “why are you making me suffer the economic cost of collecting more stuff when the benefit accrues to the population as a whole.” That seems like a fair question to me and not at all NIMBY or anti-environment.

    Here is a thought experiment. Say the state of Connecticut designated one home per street to be the neighborhood recycling collection center requiring you to dedicate 100 square feet in your garage (or front yard) for one of those recycling machines that you had to pay for and maintain (unless of course you wanted to collect, store and hand out the chits by hand) in exchange for 3.5 cents per item recycled. How would you feel about that?

    I do get that there is nominally a difference – stores sell the stuff and you don’t – but the marginal economic impact is pretty much the same. Someone is sucking up the economic cost for something that benefits everyone. Why not YOU rather than Mr. Kaner? Maybe a store has some ability to pass on some of the cost but grocery retailing is already highly competitive with thin margins so that’s easy to say but tough to do. Heck, if you are retired or home anyway and have some free time and don’t have to pay extra help, you might actually be able to make some extra money doing it by hand.

    Don’t like plastic? Don’t use it or products packaged in it. Don’t want others to use it either because they might toss it in the ocean? Ban it or tax the hell out of it so it is uneconomic to be used as packaging. Maybe a $1 rather than 5 cent per container deposit to truly encourage recycling. I mean, how many of you just toss that bottle, can or water bottle in the recycling bin rather than take it back to the store? Maybe combine it with a heavy sugary drinks tax to discourage consumption and reduce the number of containers produced/disposed of and get some societal health benefits along the way.

    In other words, why not have everyone, not just an unlucky few, share the economic burden of something that benefits us all?

    • “Why are you making me suffer the economic cost of collecting more stuff when the benefit accrues to the population as a whole? “ is a fair question.
      A Fair answer might be: Why are you are selling this stuff into the economy to the cost of populace. Why don’t you set the price fairly for these items to include the cost of recycling rather than passing that cost on to the population including those trying to avoid single use plastic items.

      • William Strittmatter

        You, of course, know the answer to your own question.

        An individual retailer (even a “mega-chain” of 17 stores) lacks market power to unilaterally jack up prices on commodity products and remain competitive or viable in that product category. And, as I’m sure you are aware, it is against the law for a company to collude with others to collectively raise prices. A retailer could, I suppose, choose not to sell those product categories, but that probably has its own competitiveness and viability issues.

        There are clearly more efficient ways to attack the issue, primarily by going to the source (manufacturer taxes or product bans) or consumers (higher deposits or taxes) where the true “offenders” pay the cost. That’s what is “fair”.

  8. Carolanne Curry

    Not feeling sorry for Avi

  9. Of course we’re for recycling. It’s just that garbage shouldn’t be brought into a supermarket. As you all know, every home and building (in city) has receycling bins. That’s where recycled bottles and cans should go. Having a secondary method of collection – bringing to a supermarket – is difficult for consumers. It also requires additional truck congestion to pick up these items from supermarkets. If any of you visit New York, you’ll see that New York itself doesn’t recycle. Every garbage can on every corner has only one bin for all garbage. Regarding the economics, minimum wage in the city has increased by 70% in four years yet the amount paid to redeem has stayed the same. It’s basically a money-grab by the state to collect taxes, not about the environment. Next time you’re in the city look at a can of soda. You will find it nearly impossible to find the deposit information – it’s subtly embossed on top of the can, nearly invisible to the naked eye of anyone over 25. Finally, brick and mortar businesses like ours are forced to accept bottles and cans people buy on the internet on Amazon and Fresh Direct. An undercover attempt to return cans to Fresh Direct in Long Island City was met with confusion. The system doesn’t make sense.

  10. Stephanie Bass

    …REALLY picking on this guy; many bottles — not his — will in all probability jam his stores; and snotty remarks that he has 17 stores does not add to the discussion. There has to be a compromise solution that works. My understanding is that food stores work on a small margin of profit.

    I don’t know Avi and don’t go to his stores but this knee jerk F$%^K the rich — from anybody in this town is, oh, droll.

  11. Note that the soda lobby an exemption.

  12. Not a great platform discussion for Westport. Avi, stop selling plastic drink containers and you won’t need to deal with this.

  13. Michael Calise

    Growing up in a grocery store bottle returns were the order of the day Just a part of doing business. In the end it may cost the consumer more but its very profitable for the environment and thats far more important.

    • Michael – you miss the point. We are of course for recycling. Every building in NYC – office and residential – has recycling bins. However, NY State collects a deposit at supermarkets that only gets returned to the consumer if they return the item to the supermarket – it’s a tax. That does nothing to protect the environment since the item would be recycled anyway.

  14. Keep driving businesses out of NY and CT. Keep making it more difficult and expensive. I heard there is cheap land in Long Island City now that Amazon is not coming. Keep buying your plastic bottles and then making it someone else’s problem. Jeesh.

  15. Nothing is disposable. It all has to end up somewhere. As “The Greatest Generation” tried to teach us: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” They were kids acting like adults. We are adults acting like kids.