Dear Martin: On June 20, I sent for an offer for a free box of Hefty One Zip storage bags. The offer required me to send in three valid coupons from two competitive brands, Ziploc or Gladlock. On Oct. 4, I received an envelope containing a coupon good for 50 cents off a One Zip purchase. A note with the coupon said that regretfully, I was not among the first 50,000 people to send for this offer.
This is ridiculous. I could have used the competitive coupons to save a lot more than 50 cents. And I had to wait 15 weeks to hear about it! -- Jane Jones, Keyport, N.J.
Lauretta Trenily of Mayfield, N.Y., wrote: "Naturally, I would not have mailed the three coupons, worth $1.47, if I had known there was a chance I would receive a 50-cent coupon in return. I feel that I have been taken advantage of and wonder just how many others were too."
I called Tenneco Packaging in Deerfield, Ill., to get the story. I explained to Arlene Stafford, a consumer offers coordinator, that several of my readers had written to me complaining about the offer. She told me that the mail-in form included the words, "Offer limited to the first 50,000 requests." She faxed me a copy.
The limitation was there, but in small print that could easily be overlooked. When I mentioned this to Ms. Stafford, she told me that consumers had reacted negatively to the offer. The good news is that 500,000 disappointed consumers like Jane Jones will soon be receiving a letter of apology and a coupon for a free box of One Zip bags, as well as two additional 50-cent coupons.
Could Hefty have stood by the fine-print limitation? Sure, but it would have been the worst kind of consumer affairs. It would have lost Tenneco Packaging a lot of customers and future sales. The company definitely did the right thing. Please be patient while waiting for your free product coupon -- but if it does not arrive, you can call Tenneco's toll-free number at (800) 727-2254.
Dear Martin: I am an employee of a supermarket in a small town. I feel it is my responsibility as a consumer and an honest citizen to let your readers know what goes on in this local supermarket. The owner of this store has been feeding his extended family for free with products he declares are damaged goods. I have observed his family shopping in our store, taking their cart to his office, and a little while later, leaving through the back doors with filled bags.
About once a week, the owner comes in with a garbage bag of empty cartons. The cartons are then rinsed, smashed and folded, and claims are written up for damaged products. When drivers arrive each week to deliver cases of groceries, they collect the damaged containers and give the store credit.
If this practice goes on at other supermarkets, it is no wonder the prices are outrageous. I work part time (no benefits) at minimum wage to make an honest living for my family. Please let your readers know about this dark secret. -- A Faithful Reader
Dear Faithful Reader: Thank you for your letter. Clearly, the owner of the store is perpetrating a fraud against all of the manufacturers whose packages he is falsely returning. I have contacted the appropriate law enforcement authorities, who will be investigating.
THIS WEEK'S $MART $HOPPER award goes to Diane Richardson of Rayland, Ohio. This is one of the best cereal deals I have heard of this year:
"Several months ago, Cheerios were on sale for 99 cents a box. I bought six boxes and used six 50-cent coupons, which the store doubled. But my savings were not over. In the newspaper, I found an offer from General Mills for a coupon for three free boxes if I sent in the proofs-of-purchase from the six boxes I had already purchased. So, for the cost of a 32-cent postage stamp to get the free product coupon, I have received a total of nine free boxes of my favorite cereal!"
Send questions and comments to Martin Sloane in care of this newspaper. The volume of mail precludes individual replies to every letter, but Martin Sloane will respond to letters of general interest in the column.