Note From Jon


Thursday, July 24, 2008

You are not "A Better Bag"!

A few months ago, on the way to see Lighting to Unite, we stopped by Whole Foods to pick up dinner. I didn’t have a grocery bag with me, and decided to purchase the latest reusable bag I had been seeing around: the Oysters bag… but they didn’t have it. They only had a slippery and obnoxiously-colored Apple bag with the pronouncement “A Better Bag” on the side.

Better than what? Definitely not better than the perfectly designed retro bags that Whole Foods has been selling for several years. Those retro bags are huge and they stretch, they have the perfect handle length and are durable (my Sack-o-Potatoes bag has already served me well for a couple of years), and the designs are fun, yet neutral enough that anyone could be happy to carry one around. Not so with this new plasticky sack. The “Better” bag doesn’t stretch and more importantly neither do the handles so they aren’t the right length for carrying on your shoulder. But even if the unpleasant feel and improper proportions were fixed, this bag would clearly never work. Look at it. The bag is way too perky. I can not walk around carrying that.

Hopefully this was just a one-off bag created to satisfy the niche market of overly-perky people. Surely the retro bags aren’t being replaced by this “Better” bag… then I remembered this is the same company that closed down my beloved Jamba Juice bar inside their store. They really could be that stupid. I turned to the internet to find out; convinced there would be hordes of outraged shoppers like myself. I’ve never felt more alone. Even people who are looking for someone to eat can find likeminded nuts on the internet, but no one was talking about the potential demise of the polyfabric Whole Foods bag. In fact, no one seemed to have talked much about them at all. I couldn’t even find out which ones were out there. People had talked about an “I am not a plastic bag” designer bag that had caused riots and was selling on eBay for hundreds of dollars, but really all that could be found about the retro bags was that the Reusable Bag Lady sells them on eBay.

So I am apparently the only person on the planet who cares about this, but I do have a blog so I decided to have some fun. My goal is to catalog all of the bags in the retro series… which means that I must first collect all of the bags in the series. A quick inventory indicated that I had Potatoes, Clementines, Lemons, Flour, and Grapes (which had even served as my extra luggage to bring back gifts from Russia!). I knew about Coffee, Honey, Apples and Oysters. Oysters was easy since it was still for sale at some Whole Foods (thus giving me hope that the series would continue).

Next was Apples (the cool Anniversary retro Apples, not the wannabe Apples on the “Better” bag) which turned out to be the most enjoyable of all. I mentioned my fun little obsession to Laura at a performance of Prairie Home Companion and she joined in whole-heartedly (see how angry she is about the impostor Apple "Better" bag!). We started noticing just how many of the different bags were represented there on the picnicker-packed lawn at Wolf Trap. Towards the end of the show we stood and sang the Star-spangled Banner… and as we did a Honey walked by! Resisting the unpatriotic urge to rush after it, we waited until the song finished… but couldn’t find Honey anymore. Then suddenly Laura was up and running after an Apples she had just spotted. A minute later she came back to grab the Oysters we had brought to carry our picnic. Apples was willing to trade for Oysters! Laura really came though and as much as I enjoyed getting Apples, I think the family we traded with were just as excited to be helping in the quest to collect them all. We talked to them for quite a bit afterwards; about the bag quest, about their recent trip to Italy, and we found out that they received news during the show about the newest addition to their extended family (and even managed to get Garrison Keiller to announce it during intermission).

Turns out we were right to continue singing the National Anthem as I was doubly-covered on Honey when the very next day my sister (who was now also in on the hunt) informed me that she had a Honey she could give me, and at virtually the same moment I received a text from Laura that she had managed to get Honey off of a customer at Starbucks. Only Coffee remained.

That same night at Jeff’s block party, Mattalie showed up carrying a Coffee that belonged to Jeff. Since Jeff had forgotten he’d left it with them in the first place, he eventually decided I should have it to complete the collection. Finally, Sara came through with a refresh for my Clementines which had sat out in the weather for the past two years as the official Bocce ball carrier. The collection was complete.

Thanks to all of you who played along with me in trying to document these great bags. That basically wraps up the standard collection which I have documented below but I’ve since learned about an insulated Pickles bag, a Banana-Split cooler, and the limited-edition Ohio-only Buckeyes bag! While I could “Buy it Now” for about $20 from the Reusable Bag Lady on eBay that seems like cheating so I will instead rely on my friends or try to hunt down the elusive Buckeye on my own when I attend a wedding in Ohio in mid-August. Update: And of course I chose wisely!

Sadly, my hopes that the “Better” bag was a mistake that Whole Foods would abandon in favor of continuing the superior retro series were shattered at Jazz in the Sculpture Garden last Friday. I saw the new I-used-to-be-a-plastic-bottle “Better” bag. Thankfully the colors are not as obnoxious, but I still feel much cooler carrying around the retro bags (what do you mean they all look like a purse on my shoulder anyway… and that I’ve never looked more foolish than when I brought one to carry my lunch on a climbing trip—before learning I’d need to have both hands free to hike to the base of the cliffs—hey, I looked stupid alright, but the stretchy straps do allow it to be worn as a backpack! Try that with the “Better” bag).

Why am I so vehemently against the “Better” bag? Well, mainly because it is fun. But also because I really did find the old bags more versatile and fashion-acceptable and don’t care much about the supposed improvements of the “Better” bag:
  • It is washable: Frankly I’ve never felt inclined to wash the old bags, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they held up just fine too.
  • It is made from recycled bottles (well 80%): Great, no wonder it feels like a plastic bottle—which is not a pleasant feeling for a bag. For the number of times I reuse these bags, it’s more important how well they work than how they are made.

But for all my mock hatred of the “Better” bags they are much better than disposable plastic bags (which Whole Foods has stopped using) and that really is the most important point. If you don’t know why check out the plastic soup that’s twice the size of the continental U.S. Thanks to my friend at Ocean Conservancy (do I have the updated name right Sarah :-) ) for pointing that out.

Below are the fruits (and other assorted foods) of our labor. Ideally I’d like to include the order and time period that each of the bags was released, so if any readers have that information please pass it along. All I know is that Potatoes was first, I think Clementines was second, Grapes was next to last and Oysters was last.

Viva la Whole Foods retro bags!

#1 Potatoes (Released 2005)

#2 Flour (Released 2005)

#3 Apples (Released 2005)
Bag provided by Laura

#4 Coffee (Released 2005)
Bag provided by Jeffrey

#5 Lemons (Released 2006)

#6 Pickles (Insulated Lunch Bag-smaller) (Released 2006)
Bag provided by Mimsi

#7 Clementines (Released 2006)
Bag provided by Sara

#8 Honey (Released 2007)
Bag provided by Laura and Mimsi

Still looking for #9, the Banana Split cooler and limited edition place mats!

#10 Grapes (Released 2007)

#11 Buckeye (Limited Edition for Columbus, Ohio only) (Released 2007)
Bag provided by Natalie!

#12 Trick or Treat Bag (smaller) (Released 2007)
Bag provided by Mimsi

#13 Oysters (Released 2007)

#14 Earth Banana (Released October 2008)
Bag provided by Jeffrey


melissa said...

The sack o potatoes was in 05 or 06 - I was still living with Joel when I got mine. The guy just gave it to me!

We've also got Honey (because I love bees), and Zipcar gave Chad the "I used to be a plastic bottle" one at the low car diet kick off on Monday. I'm not sure why, since they also gave him a cloth grocery bag with the Zipcar logo.

jonesstreetusa said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Cold Spaghetti said...

Wow -- we live about 100 feet from the largest Whole Foods in the country (or, at least, it was when it re-opened after it's roof took out half of my neighborhood during Katrina) -- and I'm surprised that I haven't seen many of those retro bags! The "better" bag is actually popular around here, as are the 'I used to be a bottle" bags. There are also compactable/foldable bags made to look like coffee sacks. I'll ask the managers at our branch if they have any inside scoop on the bags and keep my eyes open!

Mare! said...

Great write-up, Jon!! In March 2005, I volunteered to clean up a school in SE DC. Whole Foods (or someone from Whole Foods) provided a huge pallet of LEMON bags for distribution...

Emily said...

That's quite a collection you've compiled! I only have the Clementine one. That sucks that your Whole Foods closed down their Jamba Juice!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon. I am so glad you love the WFM Retro bags I designed. You have made me laugh as well as made my night. Your friend Natalie shared your blog with our marketing group here at Whole Foods. I love the stories you shared and the fun you have been having with them. Sounds like you don't have the Pickle Bag yet and just to let you know, there will be a new bag launched in mid Sept, which is 100% recycled poypropolene (totally environmental!) Ask your friend Natalie to get in touch with us again and we will try to fill in your collection, as well as fill you in when new bags are launching! Cheers!

Jon said...

How exciting! It's always great to get comments, but I must admit it's particularly fun to hear from the designer of these great bags! My sister has a Pickles bag to trade me, but I'll definitely talk to Natalie about getting in touch with you all. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

How about a Trick or Treat Bag? Just in time for Halloween, circa 2007.

WattsHisName said...

I've always loved these bags; though I'm very biased as I created the illustrations that went with the way cool design that my art director friend at Whole Foods did - way to go anonymous! (you know who this is)

I see many, many folks in my neck of the woods carrying them around to concerts, parks, trails and other grocery stores - they're very popular.

It's great to hear others share our enthusiasm for these great retro designed bags.

Jon said...

Amazingly my sister has the Halloween bag as well (I assume from '07 unless there were more), but perhaps I should be finding out what she wants me to trade her for them :-) I've been in touch with Natalie's contact so I look forward to talking more soon. Thanks again for making such great bags!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon,

The order of the bags release are as follows:



Banana Split (and Limited edition Placemats)
Buckeye 1
Trick or Treat

Earth Banana (coming soon)

Jon said...

Thanks! I've updated the order. I'm excited to see the Earth Banana bag and to find out there are placemats to try to track down of the Banana Split. A friend has the cooler but not the placemats. The Oyster bag was handy on my Century the other day when I needed to ride all my stuff a quarter mile to the start, one of my favorite things about the retro bags is that the straps are long enough to use as a backpack in a pinch.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that these are the Better Bags. I love these bags and use them for everything. They are just the right size and I love the length of their handles. I always have 2 or 3 packed on trips, carry library books, diapers, kids activities, all my groceries, etc in them. I was so disappointed when they were replaced with those terrible plasticy bags. I am so glad to see that someone else thought the decision was unfortunate.

Laura said...

I saw a coffee bag and nearly bought one thinking of you (but now i see you got one already), but then I didn't have my wallet (that's how i don't spend $$, by always forgetting it at home by accident!).

now i've been randomly getting reuseable bags...though i haven't seen any but the coffee one in the cool retro style. i thought my "use to be a bottle" was kinda cool, but then i'm no connoisseur. ;)

Anonymous said...

I too think these new "better bags" aren't nearly as nice and useable as the retro type!!!!! I seee people w/ the retro type and look t them w/ envy...they are much more user frieldly.
WF in my city does carry the zippered/ insulated reusable bags whch are really nice here in Florida!!

Jill said...

I am so happy to see your blog!
I have been so upset for months since I learned whole foods discontinued the retro bags. They are so much better than any other grocery store's bag. I really wish they'd bring them back. Any idea how we can get them to?

Jon said...

I'm hopeful the Banana Bag last fall is a sign the Retro Bags aren't gone for good but we'll have to see.

Jenny said...

I had the Pickles lunch bag and loved it! It was great and the perfect size. I think someone at work stole it. :( I have desperately been trying to obtain another one. Anyone know where I might be able to find it?