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September 2, 2019

Some Coupons Have Secret “Start” Dates

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:41 am

Hellmann's $1 couponOn Saturday, August 24, MrConsumer went to Price Rite supermarket because they had Hellmann’s mayonnaise on sale for $2.49 with a store-issued coupon.

But MrConsumer also had a $1 off manufacturer’s coupon that had just come that week in the coupon inserts. So that 30-ounce jar of mayonnaise would only cost $1.49.

When checking out, the $1 store coupon was deducted without a problem. But the manufacturer’s coupon would not deduct. A store clerk (erroneously) argued that one cannot use two coupons on the same item. As most veteran shoppers know, virtually all supermarkets will accept both a store-issued coupon and a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item.

When I pressed the issue a bit more, the coupon was rescanned and an odd error message came up on the screen… words to the effect that the start date was not met. No one knew what that meant, and store personnel went back to the line “you can only use one coupon per item.”

Dissatisfied and disappointed, I wrote to the supermarket’s customer relations department and asked (in all caps) that someone from upper management contact me about this issue. To my surprise and delight a district manager called me and was puzzled by what had happened, suggesting that it was only reasonable for them to accept the manufacturer’s coupon since the supermarket would be reimbursed for it. I photographed the coupon and emailed it to him so he could experiment with it if necessary.

A couple of days later, he emailed back the surprising results of his inquiry.

Secret *MOUSE PRINT:

Previously unbeknownst to him and the rest of the shopping world including me is that some manufacturers code a hidden “start date” of sorts into the barcode. Presumably, this is to limit the effective period of the coupon and also to try to prevent fraudulent redemptions.

This coupon was slated to be in the RetailMeNot coupon insert in Sunday’s paper, August 25th — the day after I tried to redeem it. It appears that Unilever put a start date of August 25th on the coupon to coincide with the newspaper’s publication date. What this multi-billion dollar corporation didn’t realize is that Sunday newspapers and the inserts in them are often available the day before on Saturday. And what they further were oblivious to was the practice of coupon inserts being delivered to homes in bags along with the upcoming week’s supermarket circulars days in advance. For example, I normally receive my bag of ads on Tuesday or Wednesday for supermarket sales that begin on the coming Friday or Sunday.

The Price Rite manager shared these findings with me, and instructed store personnel in his district to always accept a valid store coupon plus a manufacturer’s coupon for the same item, and to accept manufacturer’s coupons that are redeemed prior to their hidden start date. Kudos to him.

Consumer World then wrote to Unilever, the maker of Hellmann’s, to ask why they use hidden start dates. We explained to them that coupon inserts are often received by shoppers a day or days in advance, and asked what were they going to do to remedy the coupon rejection problem they unwittingly created?

We’ll post their answers as soon as they respond.




 

 

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August 26, 2019

Otter Pops: 100% Fruit Juice, or Are They?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:56 am

Rachel K. recently bought her kids some Otter Pops as a summer treat. The variety she purchased, being a health conscious mother, was labeled “100% fruit juice.” For those unfamiliar with this item, they are plastic sleeves filled with juice that you serve frozen.

Otter Pops box

Looking at the ingredients statement, this sharp consumer noticed something completely unexpected.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Otter Pops ingredients

That’s right, sugar! She rightfully asks how can this product advertise that it is 100% fruit juice when it has added sugar. In fact, the nutrition facts statement says it has three grams of added sugars. That means these pops have almost 50% more sugar than regular apple juice.

FDA regulations seems to require manufacturers to add a statement after a 100% juice claim if it contains non-juice ingredients. In the case of added sugar, it might have to be labeled “100% juice with added sweetener.”

21 CFR 101.30 (3) If the beverage contains 100 percent juice and also contains non-juice ingredients that do not result in a diminution of the juice soluble solids or, in the case of expressed juice, in a change in the volume, when the 100 percent juice declaration appears on a panel of the label that does not also bear the ingredient statement, it must be accompanied by the phrase “with added ___,” the blank filled in with a term such as “ingredient(s),” “preservative,” or “sweetener,” as appropriate (e.g., “100% juice with added sweetener”), except that when the presence of the non-juice ingredient(s) is declared as a part of the statement of identity of the product, this phrase need not accompany the 100 percent juice declaration.

When we questioned the FDA directly about products like Otter Pops, they indicated that this regulation only applies to beverages and thus is not applicable because this product is a frozen treat. In that case, less specific regulations apply, and the FDA spokesperson said the agency would likely accept the labeling as it currently appears.

However, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in comments to the FDA about a related regulation that “One hundred percent juice must be precisely that – 100% juice product from the fruit(s), exclusive of any other non-fruit juice ingredient, like added sugar.” And if does have added sugar, that fact must be clearly stated upfront.

We asked the company if they could understand how consumers are being misled by their front label and inquired on what basis they believed they were in compliance with FDA rules. A public relations spokesperson for Jel Sert, the manufacturer, responded:

“The Otter Pops label complies with the regulations promulgated under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, with the label stating “with other ingredients added.” We are confident that our packaging is accurate and does not contain misleading information.”

In our mind, stating on the front label in small type that the product contains “other added ingredients” is insufficient to overcome the impression created by the phrase “100% fruit juice” in much larger letters. Most consumers would understand “100% fruit juice” as a product having no added sugar.




 

 

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July 8, 2019

This Free Pet Food Rebate Turns the Table on Retailers

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:30 am

Shoppers often complain that mail-in rebates are a pain in the neck. You have to send in the proof of purchase, pay for postage, and keep your fingers crossed that you will actually get your money back.

Now one pet food manufacturer, Pets Global, is doing it differently. The company issued a unique manufacturer’s coupon/rebate good for a free four-pound bag of Essence dog or cat food worth up to $17.99. But instead of making the consumer buy the product and send in the proof of purchase, they are making the store do it.

Essence pet food rebate
Click to enlarge

This looks pretty normal. While it appears the consumer has to fill out the coupon, one of our faithful readers says it really is the retailer’s contact information that is required according to the company. The fine print turns the tables on the retailer who sold the product converting the coupon into a rebate of sorts.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Retailer Instructions: 1. Return this completed form. 2. The original proof of purchase receipt dated on or before 7/31/19 with the purchase price of the product circled. … Must be sent to a Pets Global distributor within 60 days of date printed on receipt for redemption.

Distributor Instructions: Send completed coupon form and receipt from retailer to Pets Global…

Some would say all rebates should work this way… but don’t hold your breath since manufacturers rely on the “breakage” and “slippage” that results when shoppers don’t follow through with the rebate process. But some states and municipalities have adopted rules that require retailers to provide the rebate to customers at the time of sale. Witness the fine print for the 100% rebates for several items in this week’s Macy’s Black Friday in July sale featured in Consumer World (see Bargain of the Week):

*MOUSE PRINT:

In “CT, RI, PR, and Dade and Broward counties in FL, rebate is given at the register.”




 

 

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June 17, 2019

Barilla Settles Class Action on Underfilled Boxes

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:46 am

Back in 2016, four Italian consumers sued Barilla, the largest pasta maker in world for misleading packaging. They alleged that the company sells specialty pastas like gluten-free, whole grain, “ProteinPlus,” etc. in the same size cardboard boxes as their traditional pastas. There is only one problem — the specialty boxes are the same size as the regular boxes but typically contain 25-percent less pasta, 12 ounces instead of the usual 16 ounces.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Barilla 12oz vs 16oz

In this case, the boxes head-on appear identical, and they are equal depth front to back. But there is more empty space inside that the shopper is not able to detect until purchasing the product. This is known as “slack fill” — non-functional empty space — and it is illegal under federal law and some state laws. (Pictures of the gluten-free and whole grain boxes are shown in the lawsuit above.)

Late last year, the company decided to settle without admitting any guilt and the case is now closed. Purchasers of Barilla will get nothing other than satisfaction that the company has agreed to make a disclosure on the box and also include a “fill line.”

It should be pointed out that Barilla is not alone in selling partially filled pasta boxes. For example, Prince engages in the same practice as demonstrated by these two spaghetti boxes that are both the same size but one has 25-percent less product.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Prince spaghetti

Notably, Stop & Shop and Giant’s store brand has taken appropriate steps to put some of their 12-ounce pastas in thinner boxes than the one-pound size.

*MOUSE PRINT:

SS rotini front
SS rotini top




 

 

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June 10, 2019

Did Those Clever Keebler Elves Try to Pull a Fast One?

Filed under: Downsizing,Food/Groceries,Humor,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:02 am

While shopping recently, MrConsumer spotted this bonus pack of Keebler Chip Deluxe cookies.

Keebler Chips Deluxe bonus pack

The package proclaims “Now 20% More Cookies FREE.” Great, who doesn’t like a free bonus? The package weighed 15.8 ounces.

A couple of rows over, however, MrConsumer saw some regular (non-bonus) packages of those same cookies.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Keebler Chips Deluxe regular

That package doesn’t claim to contain a bonus, and it also weighs the exact same 15.8 ounces. The “old” package just above appears to have been manufactured only FOUR DAYS before the bonus package based on their “sell by” dates being only four days apart (July 31, 2019 for the old one, and August 4, 2019 for the new bonus one).

So what did those clever little elves do? According to the label, both packages had 30 cookies? Is this the new math?

We asked Kellogg’s, the manufacturer of Keebler cookies, for an explanation. Unfortunately they sidestepped the issue, only saying:

We increased the weight (ounces) of each of our Keebler Chips Deluxe retail packages by 20% without an increase in price as a way to offer more value to our consumers. Each package now has up to six more cookies.

The availability of the new packages varies, as they flowed through over time. We started production of the new packages at the end of last year.

Because we have covered the downsizing of Keebler cookies in the past, we know the packages had gone down to the 11-12 ounce range about five years ago. The packages are clearly larger today.

The best we can tell, checking hundreds of Keebler Chips Deluxe pictures in Google image search, the most prevalent previous size was 12.6 ounces. The package contained about 24 cookies. The current 15.8 ounce packages contain about 30 cookies according to the label. Mathematically, that’s 25-percent more cookies, not 20-percent.

But that still does not explain how the 15.8 ounce bonus package above can be identical in weight and number of cookies (30) as the non-bonus package that immediately preceded it, being produced seemingly just four days earlier. We may never know.

But, wouldn’t it be nice if manufacturers who downsize their products called shoppers’ attention to it in as a bold a way as when they upsize them?

Keebler Fewer Chips package




 

 

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