Bill Penzey thinks you are stupid

I was paging through my newest Penzey’s catalog and saw this note on the salt page and was kind of shocked to read this little message from Bill Penzey.

We’re cutting back on salt.

A really good and healthy thing going on with food right now is that people are using less salt. We want to be a part of this. Going forward we will continue to sell reasonably priced generic salts of the earth and sea, but we will no longer be selling the higher priced specialty salts. I feel things have gotten to a point where the specialty salts are glamorizing the use of salt and, with that, encouraging people to use more of it. I have also found that along with the marketing of specialty salt has come a great deal of misinformation, including claims that some salts don’t affect your health like others do. This is just not true and not something we want to be a part of. Salt is salt, it really is, and it tastes no different no matter where it comes from.

With our belief that cooking comes from caring for those around you we feel part of that is caring for the well-being of the people we cook for. We all have our own relationship with salt and I respect that, but as a cook and as a business I feel so much better about working to cut back on the use of salt rather than encouraging the use of more. I hope this makes sense to you,


I have several issues with this decision.  First, I am disappointed that instead of letting customers decide what kind and how much salt to use that Bill Penzey is making the decision for you.  Yes you the loyal customer who have fueled the almost unbelievable expansion of Penzey’s across the country are too dumb to realize that salt is salt. From now on if you are buying salt from Penzey’s all you can get is Kosher Flake Salt and Pacific Sea Salt.  However that is not really my issue because it’s not like Penzey’s was carrying exotic salts like Pink Salt, Indian Black Salt, or even Smoked salt, my issue is how he is going about this. 

The problem is that while salt is salt, there are differences in styles of salt that people use.  While there really isn’t much difference in taste there is a difference in texture and how they dissolve.   A nice  sprinkle of Penzey’s Sel Gris on some grilled Brussels Sprouts has a different effect than if you were to use kosher salt or  table salt.  Most baking is done with table salt and if you used kosher salt chances are your recipe wouldn’t turn out as well.  As a magazine devoted to providing the home chef with great herbs, spices, and blends, I am disappointed they are so dismissive of salt.  Without salt you cannot cook great food.  Things taste flat, bland, and uninteresting.  Ask any chef what is the most important seasoning in the kitchen and they’ll all say salt. 

The problem with salt and sodium in our diets is not because of the home cook using a pinch of fleur de sel to season their green beans, it’s the use of salt as a food preservative in processed foods.  Look at a can of soup and your blood pressure will skyrocket just by reading the sodium content.  Look closer and you’ll likely find that the sodium listed is for one serving and not the entire can (usually 2 servings).  Look at any TV dinner, even those horrible Lean Cusines that everyone has been duped into thinking are actually good for you.  Look at the boxed chicken broth and stock that everyone uses and see how much salt is in there.  So yes I agree there is a sodium problem in our diets but to think that by eliminating the “fancy” salts from the Penzey’s catalog you are helping the cause is just moronic and a little bit narcissistic.  Reduce the amount of processed foods you buy and you’ll probably cut your salt intake by more than 50 percent.

Penzey’s is one of my favorite food businesses and I am proud that they are based here in Wisconsin.  They have some of the freshest and most reasonably priced herbs and spices around and I’ll continue to support them even though they think I am too dumb to know how to buy and use salt.


29 thoughts on “Bill Penzey thinks you are stupid

  1. I agree! Their attitude about this is not very “foodie” for a foodie catalog. Are they only going to offer one kind of oregano eventually, because “oregano is oregano?” It’s also pretty sanctimonious and insulting, not to mention kind of dumb from a business perspective since they’re forcing customers to go elsewhere to buy their hand-harvested, sun-dried Maldon Red Celtic Fleur de Sel.

    If Penzey’s doesn’t want to be “part of that” referring to the widespread misinformation about salt, then be “part of something else”–use your trusted position to educate your customers about salt–and make some money in the process. Just about every herb has been the subject of widespread “misinformation” throughout history, and Penzey’s won’t have much of a catalog left if they start playing that game.

    I hate watching my favorite companies doing these kinds of things…

  2. Yes. I think it’s also pertinent to remember that sugar is ten times worse for you than salt. Diabetes and obesity are just two of the wonderful surprises in store for the sugar junkie. Does Bill deny you cinnamon sugar? No.

    Salt is also a necessary nutrient for survival. You will die without it. Your nerves will lose the ability to send and receive the electrical impulses that keep you alive. The same cannot be said for sugar.

  3. Pingback: Having a POV: Penzeys Spices | morris.wm

  4. Haa, I just read it. My god, even though I agree with him I don’t need to see political opinion pieces in my Penzey’s catalog. Just sell your spices. I’ll even deal with the cheesey family cooking stories as long as he drops the political editorials and anti-salt crusade.

    He’s still on the no-salt thing too. “It has no salt out of respect for the heart-healthy style of cooking so many Arizonans enjoy.” Blah blah blah…..people in Arizona use salt, Bill. Everyone uses salt. Salt makes food taste good.

  5. It sounds like Bill, or someone close to Bill, has high blood pressure issues and he is taking it out on everyone else. I agree that salt is a necessary, if not vital, ingredient in cooking, and by limiting the selection he sells, he is only hurting his own pocketbook. A responsible cook knows how to adjust salt intake for those they love. Duh!

  6. You ought to see the current June catalog… filled with Bill’s political opinion, too much information about Wisconsin politics, schoolteachers, unions, you name it…. it’s in there!
    Please Penzey’s just give us spices and recipes. No more liberal sprinkling of politics!

    • 100% agree!!!! I am SOOOOoooo sick of him shoving his leftist politics down our throats. I cancelled my subscription to “One” when the first issue came with a gay couple featured in it. I don’t need his publication pushing gay “marriage”. Then “Arizona Dreaming” (which I refuse to buy), and “Forward!” after all the unionistas were nearly rioting in the Capitol building, with the teachers getting fake “doctor’s excuses” from doctors lined up in the streets.

      I’m pretty fed up with it.

      • I actually am on Penzey’s side. I support gay marriage 100 percent. Refusing to buy great spices (like the stellar Arizona Dreaming) because of your right wing politics is as stupid as a business man like Penzy politicizing spices.

        He should focus on cooking with his spices, not making political statements (even though I agree with most of them) and you should really look at yourself and figure out why gay marriage, which doesn’t impact you at all, makes you so angry.

  7. Dear Bill,
    I have loved using your spices for many years. I was taken to your storefront in Wauwatosa by Scott Chase. Ever since then, my daughter and I have bought and enjoyed your spices. I worked for a private practice physician. I haven’t had health insurance or a pension in my thirty years of working. I loved my job, and I cared for people. In our family we have 5 teachers. Four of the five teachers agree and understand the importance of the changes being made in the Wisconsin Legislature. I realize that it is your right to put your views in your catalog since it is your business. I would ask you to consider the fact that there are many teachers out there who are conservative. I know that they will be disappointed in you as well. The teachers in our family are excellent, love the children, and are putting them first. Unlike so many in the union that are putting themselves first. In our city the unions are bickering over who shall help the children open the ketchup packages, or wipe off the lunch tables for the next children to use. Yes, it is truly about the children. It saddens me that our country is so divided. Getting your catalog on 09-14-11, three days after our 9-11 anniversary saddens me. If our country doesn’t begin to work together, we won’t have it to worry about anymore. Sometimes I wonder why, a business man like yourself, would keep stoking the fires of the division in our country.
    I, my daughter, and all the people we have referred and given gifts to will miss your spices.

  8. Bill should be happy about this news, since he loves teachers:

    “[T]he Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators’ survey reveals that the overwhelming majority of school districts are adding math, science, language, arts and music classes and preserving athletic programs under the Walker reforms.

    The same survey showed new teacher hires outnumbering layoffs by a margin of more than 1,200 statewide—and the layoffs that have occurred are concentrated overwhelmingly (68%) in three districts that have thus far managed, unwisely, to sidestep the Walker reforms.”

    So, Bill should be glad that Walker got his reforms passed, right?

  9. Reality Check! The REAL reason Bill Penzey wants to be “selective” about the salts he offers in his stores is because salt WEIGHS a lot and is very expensive to ship it out from Penzeys warehouse to all the stores. The profit margin is very low on salt, but it costs a TON to ship it! Bill Penzey lives in a bubble in an ivory tower. Protected by his childhood chums, cousins, and sundry other family in the upper tiers of management they only tell him what he wants to hear, or what they want him to believe. His Achilles heel is that he does not fully grasp how much he is manipulated by his “trusted” circle. He has relatives in management that have no business whatsoever entrusted to supervise or manage the employees. Like Elvis, who was done in by his self-serving “advisers”–Bill Penzeys people pump-up his ego, never tell him the truth, and allow him to make a fool of himself in his little magazine. People want to buy spices, not read about Bills sheltered views of the world. The company is highly dysfunctional and operates in a culture of paranoia. The neurotic family members and buddies who run his company are terrified they might be exposed for the frauds that they are. They quickly alienate, shun or fire anyone who tries to bring in fresh ideas. No one is allowed to make suggestions, or even offer an opinion. They have no respect for the employees who run their stores. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that this is not a sustainable business model.

  10. I respect his decision an am impressed that he is letting his values rather than his profit motivation drive his business regardless of whether I agree with him or not. I love Penzys and found this post after looking for high-end salt for a S&P mills I am giving as gifts. Still gonna give the gifts and get the salt from another source, but more importantly, I will continue to be loyal customer of Penzys and I am gonna get my pepper corns at least from them.

  11. Bill Penzey is a man that is driven by his sincere convictions and care for other people. To insult a man like this is absurd. You really took the time to write such an insulting article toward a person who puts his customers above profit margins? I don’t think for one second that Bill Penzey thinks his customers are stupid. Who wrote this article anyway? You didn’t even have the guts to use your actual name? That says something to me. Just your style of writing about such a kind man and the insulting way you have done it DOES say a lot about you as a writer…. whoever you are.
    I know this is an old article but I felt I had to respond anyway.

  12. The great part about free market capitalism is that you’re able to decide not to buy from Penzeys for whatever reasons you want. Many on the left hate on Chic-Fil-A because they are a Christian owned organization and are against gay marriage. Penzeys, which doesn’t have the public visibility that Chic-Fil-A does, is on the other side of the spectrum but in my opinion a bit more egregious with how they convey their opinions. I personally don’t like the fact that I am getting politically charged emails from a company I have no political ties to and have simply conducted business with, regardless of whether or not I believe the same thing as them. I have received pro gay marriage emails from Penzeys, but, as far as I know, Chic-Fil-A isn’t sending out political emails. Either way, it’s up to the consumer to decide whether or not to purchase from a company, but Penzeys has definitely annoyed me by shoving politics down my throat when all I wanted to do was order some of the best spices I’ve found.

  13. I agree with the political messages from Penzey’s I just looked up another sprice company on line. I believe it is Bill’s sister’s company. The Spice House they have the same spices. The prices are cheaper and I wouldn’t have to get Bill’s messages again.

  14. We’re talking about salt here folks. Not taxes, Or civil rights. Or lefty or righty. Or any really important issue at all. Add as much of your own salt as you want, calm down, and get a grip.

  15. Thanks for the information. I had spices all lined up to buy at Penzey’s and then saw the add supporting marriage “equality”.. NO THANKS!!! The Spice House has all the same stuff, but no political garbage.

  16. If you are sick and tired of Penzey’s…..Check out The Spice & Tea Exchange of Mequon. It is this quaint shop that is nestled in the strip mall just where the Panera Bread is at 1412 W. Mequon Road. The atmosphere is so inviting and the smell of freshly mixed spices makes your mouth water and your stomach growl. Plus they carry over 20 different kinds of salt, which is where this conversation all started

  17. I just discovered Penzey’s because a store opened up in Arlington, Texas. I was in heaven with the aromas and selection of exotics and happily spent a bunch of money. Even sent a very complimentary email from the website. Then I started getting his tirade emails. And responded to them. Of course, he never answers. He prefers to hide behind trees to shoot at people apparently. What a silly person. He’s every bit as bigoted and divisive as he accuses Republicans of being, he just hates different groups. He should look in the mirror. The “courage of his convictions?” I don’t think so; he just has the money, position and a customer base he can flood with his opinions. My guess is he’s rather cowardly. As to the salt issue, it’s a pretty flimsy and probably untrue reason for not carrying a range of salts. There’s a monetary savings to him and you can count on it. Fortunately in this area there are several other spice shop options where we can find good smells and spend bunches of money.

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