A More Helpful Big Brother: Grocery Store Loyalty Programs Used To Notify Customers Of Salmonella Recall

According to Consumer Reports, some grocery stores are using their loyalty card registrations to get in touch with customers who bought recalled peanut butter products.

Small chains like Dorothy Lane Markets in Ohio have brought in extra employees to call and send letters to customers who bought recalled products, while wholesale giant Costco has been making robocalls to its customers.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest called on other retailers who run loyalty programs to contact their members about recalls.

Robo recalls: Grocery Chains Big and Small Alert Shoppers to Recalls [Consumer Reports]
(Photo: amyadoyzie)

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  1. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Well, ain’t that nice. Heck, I feel a little twinge of remorse for having lied like a snake on my card application. Wait… it’s gone now.

    • GearheadGeek says:

      @speedwell, avatar of snark: My grocery store (Tom Thumb, a Safeway brand) hooked me into telling the truth on the stupid card app by giving American Airlines miles. It’s not a lot of miles, but it DOES count as activity on the account every time they post miles to AA, so it keeps my miles alive until American figures out how to make them completely worthless.

  2. lawnmowerdeth says:

    Yes, I got a letter from Sam’s club letting me know I had bought some possibly contaminated crackers.

    But they were eaten 6 months ago.

  3. Chris Stone says:

    I work at Kroger and I’ve heard a couple customers mention robocalls, not to mention that if you bought any recalled products with your store card, there’s a huge recall notification on your receipt.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @Chris Stone: Yep, got one (receipt notice) just yesterday. I bought the items some time ago, but still, a nice touch.

    • Fujikopez says:

      @Chris Stone: I shop at (Kroger owned) Fred Meyers and I got a giant recall notice on the bottom of my last receipt for something I still have in the back of my pantry, that I didn’t even realize was recalled anyway (roasted nuts). I’m impressed by it. I didn’t get any robocalls though.

  4. seeker1321 says:

    Sam’s Club did something like this. They sent me a letter stating that the austin peanut butter we had bought were part of the recall. They had the name of the product I had bought, the upc code so I could check it against the one on the package, and offered a full refund of the product if we returned it to the store.

  5. bumpducks says:

    Wegmans called us to let us know that the ice cream we bought about 5 months ago has been part of the recall. They have done this in the past as well.

  6. HogwartsAlum says:

    That’s pretty cool.

  7. your new nemesis says:

    Is this a good idea? I mean that stores track purchases and store them for months at a time? Who has access to this info? Would any old clerk be able to get into the system and know what medications you had for what diseases at the pharmacy?
    Seriously though, i would kind of be worried about privacy issues associated with this kind of information management. Is that paranoid?

    • mbz32190 says:

      @skizsrodt: Pharmacy stuff usually isn’t tracked like this. Of all the chains I know of, Prescriptions must be paid for at the Pharmacy counter, and usually there’s no reason for a card to be swiped. I think the systems are a little more secure so “any old clerk” can go in and see. Who cares anyway? Even if you don’t use a store card, your credit card info is linked to a transaction in some system.

      • your new nemesis says:

        @mbz32190: That doesn’t help my paranoia. I don’t think credit cards are itemized like a store card would be, as far as they are concerned $200 at a store could be anything. I hope anyways.

        • William Gu says:

          @skizsrodt: Yea, you’re being paranoid. Inventory is tracked so if an item is selling better than another, they know to stock more of a certain item. The info isn’t used against you.

      • ArgusRun says:

        @mbz32190: This is why the program is voluntary.

        Not just any customer can go in and track your purchases. And prescription medications are tracked differently because of privacy laws.

        Over the counter medications are tracked though.

        Here’s the deal: This is used to predict consumer behavior and to drive more sales to the business. Just like Amazon will suggest other products based on what you are viewing or what you have bought, all coupons that you receive at the checkout and mail items you receive from the store will be based on your purchasing behavior. The idea being that if you purchase a lot of Progresso soup, then you will be more likely to respond to soup coupons than another customer who doesn’t. The hope then is that you purchase more soup than you might have otherwise, or try a different brand of soup that they have a surplus of or that has a better profit margin.

        It’s manipulative, but not much more so than other forms of advertising, and occasionally helpful if you like the coupon you are getting. In addition, with the free turkey/hams and other discounts, they are in effect compensating you for you sharing your purchasing habits with them.

        Now in a dystopian world, could all this info being gathered about you be used for nefarious purposes? Could they track your purchases, know that you spend a lot on condoms and Summers Eve, deduce that you are promiscuous and therefore not a valuable member of society and have you shipped off to a reeducation camp?

        …. Excuse me. I have a screenplay to go write.

        • ArgusRun says:

          @ArgusRun: Sorry… That should read:
          Not just any employee can go in and track your purchases.

        • your new nemesis says:

          @ArgusRun: I’ll be waiting in line at the box office. I like that word, dystopian. I’m going to use it someday. I’ll be waiting for this to happen


          + Watch video

          • SadSam says:

            @skizsrodt:

            I recall that CVS had a data breach regarding its customer cards that involved exposure of sensitive information, it might not have been prescrition purchases, but it was similarly sensitive. When I was searching for the story I came across this one in which Express Script customers are being black mailed regarding prescription info stolen in a data breach – [www.aishealth.com] – fun stuff.

            I assume these stores took the preemptive move to contact customers regarding teh PB products so when the lawsuits start they can point to their efforts to contact customers.

      • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

        @mbz32190: I dunno, my pharmacy has my insurance info on file and knows enough to robocall me when my Rx is ready AND to automatically make my HCSA send refunds for my co-pay. I bet the pharmacy has way MORE info stored waaaaaaaay longer.

    • magic8ball says:

      @skizsrodt: Yes, they are keeping information about what you bought from them. They use it for targeted marketing purposes, and are probably selling it to other companies as well. Your pharmacy information, however, is not included with info on your other purchases, unless you have given them permission. Privacy laws regarding your medical information vary from state to state, but you can probably find the rules that pertain to pharmacies in your state posted somewhere near the counter at your pharmacy.

      • your new nemesis says:

        @magic8ball: I don’t have a card like that, but I hear so much in the news about “big brother” and privacy issues. I just gotta wonder the implied benefit to cost ratio of ALL your spending habits, down to itemized lists, on record. Couldn’t someday say insurance companies use this info to determine your eating habits. Or a bank deciding whether your being fiscally responsible. Or whatever. Just a thought.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @skizsrodt: CVS knows i have diabetes and if i buy insulin syringes or supplies at the pharmacy there [my actual medication comes from a mail order pharmacy] then i tend to get coupons for glucose tablets and such from the pharmacy checkout, if i let them scan my cvs card during that purchase.
      i haven’t yet gotten a diabetes related coupon from scanning my card at the main register. so i don’t know how it works, but it might just have some sort of privacy difference between the two systems

    • dvdchris says:

      @skizsrodt: Pharmacies are required by federal law to be HIPAA compliant. This would preclude information sharing with any company/system that was not involved in your medical care somehow.

  8. Donathius says:

    The grocery store near my home (Smith’s aka Kroger) has been printing notices at the bottom of the receipts. It makes the receipts quite a bit longer, but it seems like a good way to notify people about the recall.

  9. AliceMaz says:

    I got a similar letter from Stop & Shop after we bought poisoned cat food… unfortunately, we’d already given it to kitty and he was sick. But, I appreciated that they were trying.

    R.I.P. Big Red

  10. bobpence says:

    People who don’t come back to the store to get the recall receipts have, presumably, already used the tainted products.

    No, seriously, I just suggested this use of the loyalty program database in a business writing course.

  11. wickedpixel says:

    costco both called me and sent a letter letting me know i’d bought a tainted peanut butter product. it was very nice of them.

  12. ScottRose says:

    Nice to hear about robocalls doing some good for once.. :)

    Fortunately I eat most of my peanuts in pre-buttered form, so I have yet to receive one.

  13. redskull says:

    Of all the current invasions of my privacy that are going on, this one is at the bottom of my list. I really don’t care if a clerk can call up a list of what kind of cereal I buy.

  14. madanthony says:

    I’ve gotten emails from Amazon and Drugstore.com – both of which I’ve bought clif bars from – telling me that something I bought from them might be contaminated.

    Some of the clif bars actually were the flavors and date codes within the range of the recall – I stopped eating them, but I haven’t tossed them – and given that I ate several before the recall was announced, I’m tempted to just eat them – especially since I emailed Clif about a refund and they never got back to me. I don’t really want to toss ~$20 bucks worth of food that probably won’t kill me.

    • ecwis says:

      @madanthony: If you’re moderately healthy, I’m almost certain that they could not kill you. Just think of it as a way to strengthen your immune system. :-)

    • mlb1886 says:

      @madanthony:

      I was halfway through a box of Clif Mojo PB/pretzel bars when I heard about the recall, checked the date codes and found they were in range. I figured I hadn’t gotten sick from the first half, and probably wouldn’t from the rest. I was right.

      Of course, I’m not suggesting that anyone do as I do.

  15. CaptZ says:

    Like anyone puts real info on those cards? Not me…..

  16. runchadrun says:

    Kroger-owned Ralphs printed a long list of ALL Clif Bars affected because I have purchased Clif Bars in the past. I think I’ve only purchases one of the varieties and that was months ago.

  17. private1111 says:

    Costco called me this weekend to say that some luna bars we bought between september 08 and now may be contaminated. i apprecited the call even though those bars are long eaten.

  18. NitrousO says:

    Nice to see the stores actively trying to protect the customers. I didnt even realize that they had a way to contact customers who had already bought the food.

  19. merekat says:

    I got an alert on my receipt at Krogers Saturday, and the cashier explained it to me when she handed me my receipt. When I went back to return two recalled products today, the Customer Service lady didn’t know what was what, so I had to explain to her that she had to give me a refund. I ended up making money on it, cause the stuff was on sale when I bought it. She did ask how I had paid for it, and I lied and said cash, so I wouldn’t have to full with the check card.

  20. HaxRomana says:

    Not every store with a loyalty program tracks purchases, which I think is great. So what happens when this service (warning you when you’ve purchased something that’s been recalled) becomes an expectation and all the loyalty programs become purchase-tracking programs?

    I’m not a conspiracy theorist and I don’t wear tinfoil hats, but I do think that the less information a corporation collects about me and mine, the better.

  21. DelannaDeipyle says:

    Kroger gave me a receipt telling me to watch out for all these varieties of bakery cookies, but i didnt realize it was based on what i buy often. now i feel like a fatty :(