Leaving Publix: Growing wave of longtime Publix customers spurning Florida grocery giant to express outrage over company’s refusal to support Fair Food…

[hupso title=”Leaving @Publix: Growing wave of longtime customers spurning Publix, outraged over company’s refusal to support #FairFood” url=”https://ciw-online.org/blog/2015/05/leaving-publix/”]


Life-long customer to Publix: “You have a responsibility to share the loyalty, good fortune and prosperity we’ve given you with the rest of your community.”

An intriguing new trend is beginning to emerge among once-loyal customers of Publix, and Florida’s hometown grocer would do well to take note.  In increasing numbers, consumers are launching their own, personal boycotts of the Lakeland-based chain — often doing so quite publicly — to express their frustration with Publix’s unconscionable refusal to join the Fair Food Program (FFP).  As the FFP continues to expand and gain momentum, and as the food justice movement increasingly leaves Publix behind in its embrace of the worker-driven social responsibility model, a growing wave of longtime customers who value human rights and fairness for farmworkers are leaving Publix right along with it.

Today, we want to share yet another letter from one more fed-up Publix customer.  Last week, food blogger and Polk County native Renia Carsillo watched the documentary “Food Chains,” and much to her dismay she learned that Publix was rejecting, rather than embracing, a proven solution to farmworker abuse and poverty in their shared home state.  To quote Renia, To say that I am outraged at Publix’s stubborn refusal to treat the farmers who pick their produce with basic human dignity would be a gross understatement…  Today my weekly grocery trips became something I am ashamed of.

Here is an extended excerpt of Renia’s powerful (and beautifully written) letter to her childhood grocer, which she penned the very next day after seeing “Food Chains” (you can check out the full version on Renia’s own site, The Development of Taste):


An Open Letter to Publix from a Life-Long Customer

Dear Publix Executives and Shareholders,

Yesterday I watched in horror as one of my favorite companies made me ashamed and angry for my loyalty to its brand. Today I watched the James Beard Award Winning documentary, Food Chains Filmwith my 10-year old son and found myself in a terrible position, looking for a way to defend the way my family chooses to spend a huge chunk of our monthly budget.

As the credits rolled Tristan asked, “Why do we shop somewhere that doesn’t care about people who don’t look like us?”

The images of Coalition of Immokalee Workers disappointed faces replaying in my mind, I had no answer for him. All I could say is, “Maybe will have to figure out a new place to shop.” […]

[…]  My family spends a big part of our budget and an even bigger part of our time on our daily meals.  To say that I am outraged at Publix’s stubborn refusal to treat the farmers who pick their produce with basic human dignity would be a gross understatement.

My lifelong belief that Publix is the closest thing to a neighborhood store you can get these days has been shattered.  I wasn’t naive, but I grew up with you guys–watching as Publix grew from a Florida-centric small chain into a juggernaut.

As a Polk County native, I watched the growth of the Publix brand with pride.

A Publix customer across the street from CIW's 24-hour vigil in front of Publix, who ultimately spoke at length with vigil participants about the Fair Food Program and went home
A Lakeland resident across the street from CIW’s 24-hour vigil in front of Publix in 2014.  Soon after this photo was taken, he spoke at length with vigil participants about the Fair Food Program, and decided to end his counter-protest.

Many of my friends have worked at Publix over the years. Your reputation for being good to employees and good to the communities surrounding your stores made me feel proud. I thought your company just might be able to be an example that others would follow.

How naive I was. […]

[…] A Lifetime of Publix Memories

Brand loyalty really isn’t my thing, but Publix has always been the exception.

I grew up in Frostproof, just a 45-minute drive from your world headquarters.  We went there on field trips when I was a kid.

In high school the Publix jobs were the most sought after–the only place a teenager could make a decent hourly wage.  In college a friend planned his whole future around becoming a Publix store manager.

I remember the first time I shopped in a now-closed Publix in Avon Park, Florida.  I was 9-years old and attending my first sleep over with a friend.  Her mother suggested we grab a quart of ice cream and loaded us into the family mini van.  As a girl who grew up shopping at Save-A-Lot, I remember what it felt like to see those little green tiles at the front door and the pristine mint-colored vests on the workers.

Shopping at Publix was nothing like the weekly grocery shopping experience of my family.  The associates were helpful, the isles pristine and the atmosphere soothing.

I  remember thinking, “Publix must be where rich people buy their groceries.”

After wandering through the aisles long enough to try a few samples, we checked out with our ice cream and the nice lady at the cash register handed me and my friend matching pink balloons with a pack of smarties attached to the end. As we exited the sliding glass doors, I turned around for one last look at this enchanting store and saw the Publix slogan for the first time: “Where shopping is a pleasure.”

And it was.

That day, while I was still at the beginning of my journey as a cook and foodie, I promised myself that someday I would be a Publix customer just like my friend’s Mommy. I promised myself grocery shopping would be something to smile about, not something to dread.

For 14 years it has been. For 14 years Publix has made my trips to the grocery store something I look forward.

Today that all changed.

Today my weekly grocery trips became something I am ashamed of.

The Value of a Customer

I am 31 this year and have loyally kept that childhood promise to make Publix my go-to store.

Given my weekly grocery budget, plus a few last-minute stops each week and adding in an addiction to your subs, I estimate that I have spent around $150,000 in your stores over the years.  That number may not be significant on your balance sheet, but when you consider that I have shopped almost nowhere else for that many years, it’s brand loyalty that is pretty hard to come by in today’s competitive marketplace.

Beyond dollars I’ve spent myself, I have been a Publix advocate.  Arguing for the validity of shopping there over other grocery stores for years, despite the often higher prices.

But how can I teach my children to be conscientious and moral human beings and continue to support a company that puts profits above the most vulnerable people?

How can I continue to advocate for paying higher prices when it doesn’t translate to stronger communities? […]

[…] A Call for Change

Publix is based in Lakeland, Florida, smack dab in the middle of the once-great Florida citrus industry and just a few hours from most of your Florida-based suppliers. Your organization has a responsibility to share the loyalty, good fortune and prosperity we’ve given you with the rest of your community.


In the years I’ve been a customer, you’ve always done a good job of being a good steward to the people who can afford to shop at your stores.  Now, as Publix experiences unprecedented growth and prosperity, you have a responsibility to help grow that category, to help raise the workers who pick your produce out of poverty so they can afford to be your customers too.  To paraphrase Henry Ford, if your supply chain cannot afford to buy your products, you’ve got yourself a problem.

I know many of you have been Publix employees throughout this period of rapid growth for your company.  I know you understand intimately how doubling your income can change the entire course of your life.  The one cent per pound extra that the CIW asked for would double the salaries of hundreds of farm workers in our state.

The farm workers of Florida may not be your employees, but you are responsible for their livelihoods.  You can change their lives, if you have the will to extend the Publix hospitality I’m so fond of to all residents of Florida, not just the ones who look like you.


A Customer Who Believes in Fair Foods

Tell Publix you stand with The Coalition of Immokalee Workers and believe in Fair Food. Write a letter or consider purchasing a copy of my upcoming memoir, Born Hungry. $1.00 from every print copy and $.25 from every digital copy will be donated to CIW to help them continue their work to raise farm workers out of poverty.

Clearly, five years into Publix’s stubborn rejection of the Fair Food Program, the verdict is in:  No matter how strong Publix’s 85-year-old brand may appear, disregard for human rights in the 21st century will be their Achilles heel.

Stay tuned for more letters for Publix from the ever-growing Fair Food Nation — we are certain this will not be the last!