Honoring Bill Daniels for launching the "Healthy Grocery Stores" movement! 


Smoke-Free Marin Coalition Tribute to Bill Daniel,  Pioneer of the Healthy Store Movement

The late Bill Daniels was one of the earliest mainstream grocery store owners to stop selling tobacco, electronic smoking devices, and alcopops (alcohol that comes with sugary pop in flavors that appeal to youth).  Marin County's Tobacco-Related Disease Control Program and the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition created a short documentary highlighting his philosophy about why mainstream grocery stores should avoid selling addictive products made by companies that addict youth.  This documentary has been broadcast on local television stations in many counties and states.  It has also been used to help educate store owners and helped some convert to a healthier (and more profitable) store model.


As the video shows, Bill Daniels was honored by U.S. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey in the Congressional Record for his decision to stand up to these predatory industries: Stores Take a Stand for Community Health:  https://vimeo.com/155066436


Link to a recent Marin Independent Journal article about Bill Daniels: 



The following transcript as from an interview between a member of the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition with the late Bill Daniels, owner of United Markets, about his financially lucrative decision to stop selling unhealthy, addictive products. His words of wisdom, along with the above mini-documentary, offer encouragement for grocery store owners who are thinking about dropping addictive products targeted to youth in favor of providing healthy options. 


EE: Please tell us why you stopped selling tobacco products in your large supermarkets 16 years ago in 2002.


BD: I am president of the United Markets grocery chain. I am also the owner, and it’s a family operation, and I’ve been fighting this tobacco issue since 2002  Tobacco was our biggest seller back in the 1970s – our number 1 grocery selling item. The tobacco companies always promoted them as impulse items. We had a fixture with cigarettes wrapped all the way around.  I kicked tobacco out of our store in 2002 after an employee died of cancer. I believe we were the first supermarket chain to do so. After we lost that employee to cancer, it was not a tough decision.


EE: How did the public react?


BD: We received many pieces of correspondence saluting us for our decision on discontinuing cigarettes in our markets.  It was wonderful because a lot of people have followed my lead, and I see other stores making that decision and I think it’s the right thing to do.  I hope that everyone comes on board and we have a smokeless society.  I just am so into trying to keep the community healthy.  United Markets has a mission to not want to sell tobacco products, e-cigarettes, chewing tobacco, anything that is going to harm the child or harm the individual, causing cancer and diabetes and various other diseases. We have a philosophy on forbidding any tobacco or e-cigarette storefront or window advertising.


EE: How have the tobacco and e-cigarette industries responded?


BD: When e-cigarettes first came out, I had a beverage supplier, actually a wine and liquor supplier approach me, a sales rep, and told me that was crazy if I didn’t jump on the bandwagon.  And he said that e-cigarettes are so big that people are promoting and making room for them in their warehouses.  He told me: “It’s a huge profit center and absolutely will make you all sorts of money.” I told him that I was not interested because I want nothing to do with anything that is going to harm somebody.


EE: How did he react?


BD: He was shocked! He thought, he never heard this before.  He thought that I was the only one that was taking this stand.  And that so many stores are clearing out space in their warehouse to accommodate electronic smoking devices.  The sales rep kept saying:  “This is absolutely what you should be doing, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t take advantage of this;  it  is unbelievable, the amount of profit you will make.” And I said, “That is my decision and I don’t want any part of it.”  After that, sales representatives kept coming with big incentives, offers and stories about big profit, but I turned them down. I am not interested in profit, I am interested in health.  When I discovered that we suddenly carried alcopop (alcoholic pop that appeals to youth), I studied what they were, and then I had them immediatly removed from our store shelves. 


EE: What would you say to other store owners considering a similar decision?


BD: I think that that store owners would be extremely smart in making the decision to eliminate tobacco and e-cigarette type products. Be very concerned about the young and their health standards. What I would say to any store owner that approaches me, (and I spoke in front of many groups) is just "bite the bullet", do the right thing.  Eliminate unhealthy products from your shelves. Let's consider health, and forget about profit, just get away from profit.  It (profit) is going to come back to you threefold.


EE: Your store has an amazing variety of healthy food options even though United Markets was never technically a health food store chain.


BD:  I am a firm believer in having fresh produce in the front of our stores and remind everybody about having good health.  When we remodeled our San Rafael store, we enhanced the produce department so we have major displays of fresh produce just to remind everybody that health is in produce - not in cigarettes and sugar. I think the first decision that a grocery store owne should make is to promote more of the fresh produce and less of the sugar drinks and alcopops and tobacco and e-cigarettes. I think that grocery store owners should consider placing fresh produce out in the front of the store (as we do) just to remind everybody of good health.  


EE: What role does a grocery store play in community health?


BD: I think that grocery stores play a major role in good health, and I think that more store owners should look at that and realize that grocery stores are the focal point. Customers are looking at us to make good decisions about health. Healthy grocery stores promote healthy communities and I believe that if store owners do the right thing they would feel much better about themselves and about their operation.


EE: Do you think that community leaders have a role in stores providing healthier options instead of addictive products that are marketed to youth?


Everybody should come on board with us. Elected leaders should also make sure that they are doing the right thing by making sure that the tobacco stays away from the children. If they can entice grocery stores just not to carry it, clear out all these unhealthy products, we will have safer and better communities.  Elected leaders should be very concerned about the health of their community.   Think about your grandchildren about your great-grandchildren. Think about your community, think about good health, and think about what you can do to make your community a better place to live. 


We are grateful to Bill Daniels for his example of courage by a business owner to choose community health over profits.  While he will be missed, the Smoke-Free Marin Coalition and our partners in other counties and states will help sustain his great legacy of healthy grocery stores as leaders in community health. For more information contact: sfmcoalition@smokefreemarin.com.



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