Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How Quickly I Was Replaced

Stop & Shop Consumer Affairs

To Whom It Concerns:

I'm not an open letter kind of gal, but your contact form offers few specifics. Let's pretend this is the New York Times and, since I'm publishing this on a blog, that other people are actually reading it. Isn't this cozy? Hi, Mom!

I live in a small town on the Raritan River in New Jersey. If you've ever been to New Jersey, you know towns butt up against one another and no town can help sniffing what's only a town over. The Stop & Shop I can walk to is so bad I get in the car and drive to the Stop & Shop two towns away for - well - anything I really want, though sometimes I drive down Route 27 to the Stop & Shop four towns south of here. I've taken to calling my local grocery store The Extortion Mart because residents of this proud walking community might as well jog up, tithe and jog away, lest reanimating produce leap out at us. Needless to say, there's almost nothing in that store I want except cat litter and entertainment.

The other night, my Handsome Prince and I sought baking ingredients. Late last week, I'd picked up a salad and cut fruit for a quick dinner away from home and ended up spitting out rotten grapes at a relatively ballistic velocity so I have become persnickety in the produce aisle. But that tragedy is behind us now! Color us optimistic, we walked the aisles of The Extortion Mart. I had certain ingredients in mind because my co-workers had declared Tuesday, November 13th National Pie Day. I know. National Pie Day is actually observed on January 23rd, and their declaration conflicted with Felix Unger Day, but I admired the joie de vivre. I wanted Philadelphia's new Cheesecake In a Drum and a graham cracker crumb pie shell but the store did not stock the cheesecake goo. Making real cheesecake might give my co-workers the impression I cared about them, so that was o-u-t out! The baking aisle lacked gelatin leaves for fruit compote topping but stocked instant no-bake cheesecake mixes, so my office situation is still a little tense. Fortunately, the usual mayhem occurred in the checkout line, where I instinctively resorted to belting out Ethel Merman tunes when an employee mumbling to himself cut in front of us. My Handsome Prince wanted to pick up the offending teen by his collar, but can't resist Anything Goes! And tranquility ensued.

As something of a connoisseur of Stop & Shops, I know how responsive your store managers are to customer suggestions for new products. I could, as I have many times, take a manager aside and ask if, say, baking pans shouldn't be in the baking aisle but no one wants to be seen as fixating. No, no one does! Yet, it boggles what's left of my tiny little mind that in 2007, and in the third quarter even, recycled paper products may be found in your stores only after an extensive, coordinated search. In two of the three stores I frequent, recycled toilet paper can be found in a corner, huddled, lonely, like a redheaded stepchild. I've been a redheaded stepchild. L'Oreal still makes the best dyes. But the third store doesn't even carry recycled toilet paper, and none of them carries recycled paper towels. I am perfectly willing to warble No Business Like Show Business if I can find the products I need, and that make sense in this time and place. But - if I may be so bold - this is ridiculous.

You may say that the market creates the situation and if people wanted recycled paper products you would stock them in impressive numbers. That, as you know, is self-perpetuating nonsense. If you display and offer coupons for a variety of recycled products, people will buy them. Some Stop & Shops have green product ghettos. In one such cold case, I found whole milk yogurt. Why were there two yogurt cases? Why shouldn't green diapers be next to Pampers and Huggies? Why shouldn't nutritious cereals sit side by side with Cocoa Puffs? Let's be honest: if customers don't know they have these options, they're going to be less and less optional. Customers need them, and you can make money meeting those needs.

Back to the butt-sniffing: while it is true that I will still cautiously shop at The Extortion Mart - and try not to touch anything that looks especially Swamp Thing-y - for small items, the lack of sensible choices sometimes forces me to serenade shoppers at Acme and Pathmark in nearby towns.

I thought you should know.

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