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Published: Saturday, 3/29/2014 - Updated: 5 months ago

Toledo-area Krogers to end coupon doubling

Chain says it’s cutting prices on 2,000 items

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Next Tuesday, Toledo-area Kroger customers will see lower prices on thousands of items the supermarket chain sells.

But as a consequence of the price reductions, the retailer said it will end its practice of doubling coupon values effective May 1.

The Kroger Co.’s Columbus division, which includes the Toledo area, on Friday said it is cutting prices on 2,000 of the most commonly purchased items in its stores.

The changes apply to all 123 stores in the Columbus division, which covers most of northern Ohio and includes 17 Toledo-area Krogers plus the recently renovated store in Lambertville.

The Lambertville store is the only Michigan store in the division.

Other Kroger stores in Michigan are part of the chain’s Michigan division and still will provide double coupon values.

“When people shop with us they want the best value for their grocery dollar,” said Jackie Siekmann, a spokesman for Kroger’s Columbus division.

The changes “were something that our team researched,” she added.

The price cuts range from a few cents in some cases to a few dollars in others.

Cincinnati-based Kroger, which is the dominant supermarket chain in the Toledo area, said it began its price reduction initiative March 3.

A typical Kroger store carries nearly 40,000 different stock keeping units. Ms. Siekmann said Kroger used customer surveys and data from its loyalty card program to choose which items to reduce in price.

The 2,000 items it chose are those most frequently found in the average customer’s shopping cart, she said.

“We did it by listening and looking at shopping habits through the loyalty card data to see which items were the most meaningful to customers. So, for example, we noticed that whole wheat pasta was on the rise. So we lowered the price on that,” Ms. Siekmann said.

Ronzoni whole wheat pasta, which was $1.99 a box has been reduced to $1.39, she said.

Other price reductions include Lunch Box Apples at 33 cents each from a previous 50 cents each; Roma tomatoes at 99 cents a pound from $1.29 a pound; an 18-ounce package of Oreo cookies at $2.99 from $3.19; a 28-ounce jar of Kroger brand peanut butter at $2.99 from $3.29, and 17.6-pound package of Kibbles ’n Bits dog food at $10.99 from $12.89.

The price cuts include a significant number of produce, natural food, and organic food items, categories where Kroger said it has seen a dramatic rise in sales in the last few years.

Sales of natural foods, for example, have more than doubled in the last four years, Kroger said.

“Our natural foods department is the fastest growing in our stores and that’s a trend that is happening across the country [at Kroger stores],” Ms. Siekmann said. “It began on the West Coast, but now it’s hit the Midwest and we are recognizing that trend.”

To help offset the cost of its price-cutting initiative, Kroger said it made the decision to quit doubling coupons. Ms. Siekmann said eliminating double coupons “is an industry trend. It’s not necessarily a Kroger trend.”

Kroger’s policy was to double manufacturers’ coupons with a face value up to 50 cents. Last year, Kroger’s southern Ohio division, which includes Cincinnati and Dayton, eliminated double coupons. Kroger’s chief competitor in the Toledo area, Meijer stores, also did away with double coupons last year.

Giant Eagle continues to double coupon values, but the Pittsburgh-based chain announced last Friday that it would close its two Toledo-area stores by May 3.

Kroger said its research shows that less than 2 percent of its customers are “heavy coupon users” and 86 percent do not use double coupons at all.

The retailer said it will continue to redeem manufacturer’s coupons, valid printed coupons, and electronic coupons at their face value.

Grocery industry analyst David Livingston, of DLJ Research in Milwaukee, said Kroger’s move is not unexpected because more customers prefer lower prices to coupons.

“There’s been a reduction in SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits nationwide and a lot of consumers are becoming more price-conscious and grocers are becoming more competitive on price with competition like Walmart,” Mr. Livingston said.

“As a result, there is more emphasis on price rather than discounting with coupons,” he added.

Jill Cataldo, a nationally known coupon expert who writes a syndicated column that runs in The Blade, said double coupons are an endangered species.

“I think doubles’ days are numbered everywhere in the country,” said Ms. Cataldo, who resides in the Chicago area. “It’s a very regional thing and even in the markets that have had it forever, like the South, they’re starting to pull out,” she said.

Ms. Cataldo said grocery stores pay for the coupon discount.

“The store is paying for it and their profit margins are already razor-thin, so if there is no reason to do it, they won’t. … If a competitor is doing it, a store will do it. But if they don’t have to, they won’t,” she said.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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