business news in context, analysis with attitude

We had a piece on Friday about how A&P-owned Farmer Jack Food Markets in Michigan and Ohio have instituted a new promotional program designed to build traffic and sales – the company says that if a customer finds a product in the store that is not fresh or is out of date, the product will be replaced free.

The program, called “Take The Fresh Challenge,” is part of a freshness-oriented strategy launched by the company more than a year ago.

Our comment: Just out of curiosity, under what circumstances would a supermarket not take back and replace a product that was either not fresh or past its sell-by date?

Now, if the company actually is saying that if you find a non-fresh or out-of-date product in the store, it will give you a fresh version of that product for nothing, that’s a different matter. (Though to be honest, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal, either.) But that’s not what the company press release says.

What Farmer Jack is offering to do, it seems to us, is the bare minimum of what any supermarket should do under normal circumstances. If it was doing less before this, it may explain why the chain has been having its share of competitive problems.

We got a number of emails like the one sent to us by MNB user Jamie Bradburn:

A&P's Canadian divisions played that angle up heavily a couple of years ago, but a Toronto newspaper discovered an odd side effect - people were going through their stores and digging through the nooks and crannies of every shelf to discover outdated merchandise, racking up significant amounts of free food. I think some stores may have eventually set limits as to how much bad merch one could turn in. I can't wait to see the crowds of people huddled around the cheese shelf next time I'm in a Farmer Jack.

Another MNB user chimed in:

What Farmer Jack is doing is a repeat of a program the had to put a stop to a few years ago because it backfired on them. Seems "professional" customers would come into the store, find something like $10,000 of out of date product at 3am, and then the poor night manager had no choice but to let them walk out with $10,000 worth of free product.

Believe me, finding $10,000 of outdated product in an A&P operation is probably not too difficult. I'm sure A&P will have some severe restrictions in order to keep from being taken by this promotion. In the end it doesn't really matter what name A&P puts on their stores or what promotions they have. They are still A&P and the result will always be the same. This company has been going backwards for several years and there are no signs of this trend slowing.

MNB user Dennis Sirianni wrote:

Talk about reducing the number of employees needed to run a store! Sounds like A&P is onto something, maybe they could extend the thinking to the check-out, if you bag your own groceries, they will throw in the plastic bag Free!


Even now, someone may be taking that suggestion seriously…

Another MNB user wrote:

Are you kidding me? Take The Fresh Challenge almost implies that it would be FUN to get home from the store with out-of-date yogurt. What is the incentive they're going for here - If you find some wilted lettuce (and we
think you just might!) it's a win-win for everyone!!

Give me a break. If you want to impress people, how about "If you find spoiled product, then you can shop here free for a year." To me, that says, first: We DON'T think you'll find anything but the freshest product in our
store. And second, if you DO, it would be such a major screw-up, that we're willing to show you just how sorry we are and how much we value your business.

If you're truly "fresh obsessed" (an A&P slogan), then doesn't the latter idea make more sense?

Not unless you have utter confidence in your ability to deliver on the freshness promise. And we suspect they don’t.

One member of the MNB community wrote:

If they were looking for a way to build their fresh image and build customer loyalty why not just continue to promote the “We’re Thinking Fresh” campaign through more in-store demo’s, better merchandising or through promotional sales. I know these ideas are probably rudimentary, however, anything would have been better than the statement they are making with this campaign.


And yet another MNB user chimed in:

Get real, Farmer Jack. What's the big deal about replacing a product that's not fresh? I agree, it shouldn't be in the store in the first place! Our local Meijer store had 8 containers of cottage cheese that were 5 days past the sell-by date. I put the containers on the floor and told the dairy supervisor about them. When I returned to that section about 20 minutes later, those containers were back in the refrigerated case!

You've stated the obvious about freshness, so what exactly does Farmer Jack hope to achieve by this "Fresh Challenge" strategy? Are they just searching for ideas to bring customers back into their stores? Aren't executive supposed to have some common sense? I think it's time they have a chat with their marketing team if this is the best they can come up with.

MNB user Murray Raphel offered a relevant anecdote:

Interesting story on Farmer Jack giving an item "free" if it's out of date.

Reminded me of the time I visited one of the Woolworth stores in New Zealand (not the defunct 5&10 but the supermarket chain.)

I saw signs for "Our Double Guarantee". I asked what it meant.

They said, "If you buy ANY perishable from us, bring it home and are not satisfied with what you bought, bring it back and we'll give you a new item AND refund your money."

"WOW," I said. What a positioning statement. They had their own, and effective USP. When I came home I went to a local independent and said he needed something to position himself separate and apart from the chain store competition. I told him to use this idea since he could then say he was so proud of the freshness of all his perishables that he was the ONLY one to offer this guarantee.

He looked at me and said, "Do you know how many people will return what they bought!"

"Wait a minute," I replied. "Are your apples mealy? Are your bananas all overripe? Does your seafood had a funny odor?" He said, "Of course not. But you don't known my customers," and walked away.

Oh well, another great opportunity that won't knock twice.

We also had a story on Friday about how researchers at the University of Western Ontario have published a study saying that one beer a day can provide drinkers with the same benefits that red wine is believed to offer.

More than one beer apparently inhibits the antioxidant properties of beer. But one beer can fight the “free radicals” in the body that can cause cancer and heart disease and a host of other ailments.

We also noted that the study was funded by Guinness and Labatt.

MNB user Jack Ericsson wrote:

A Guinness-funded study that states “one beer a day can fight the “free radicals” in the body that can cause cancer and heart disease… Brilliant!

Hey, let’s not look a gift beer in the mouth.

Another MNB user wrote:

With all the things out there now that do cause cancer, it is amazing that beer may actually be good for you (one a day). Interesting. Beer companies behind it? Of course. I doubt the government would throw money at a new study presented as "Beer, a healthy choice..."

Beats the hell out of a lot of other things the government funds…

And another MNB user wrote:

Beer comes in ones?

Yeah, that confused us, too.

Finally, we noted last week that we’d gotten some emails that were uncivil, and some that suggested certain topics should be off-limits because it would be safer. We’re not inclined to play it safe, so we’re going to keep sticking our neck out.

We also got the following email from MNB user Denise Remark-Lundell, which we’re posting because it isn’t so much about us as it is about the MNB community:

Aside from the business information I enjoy reading so very much on MNB, I particularly like the commentary and repartee of MNB community members/

I certainly don't agree with everything I read from either you or the respondents, however, the beauty is that we can all agree to disagree at some time or another! The MNB community is an amazing thing to me; those of us who comprise the community combine our individual energies and give it life.

I hope this doesn't sound corny, but I feel a real connection with people I have never met! I look forward to reading comments made by various persons whose names I recognize because I've come to learn that they are thoughtful & insightful.

Kevin, you have a stellar forum in MNB!

We agree. This community of people that make up MNB is a remarkable group…and we’re lucky to be a part of it.
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