Here’s what one parent is doing to improve grocery store checkout aisles
Last December, Jane Kramer of East Lansing, Michigan, started a Change.org petition calling on Meijer — a midwest based grocery store chain — to put their customers’ health first by replacing “junk food with food and non-food options in the checkout aisles at each of its stores.”
For the last eight months, Jane’s been putting up a fight against the company — getting like-minded people to sign and comment on her petition, making sure her story is told by the media, mobilizing her supporters to call and email Meijer’s leadership, and seeking concrete ways to make sure the concerns and thoughts of the customer are an influential part of Meijer’s marketing plan.
I recently had the chance to interview Jane to get a sense of what inspired her to act, what stage of her campaign she’s in, and what her plans are next.
Check it out below.
Pulin Modi: What motivated you to start this petition?
Jane Kramer: The motivation came shortly after my husband and I became new parents to a five-year-old from China. During those first few months, there were numerous and wonderful life changes: our diets improved due to our son’s love of fruits and vegetables; we started looking at our culture and surroundings from his perspective; and my mama-bear instincts kicked in.
That’s when I started to realize how mentally and physically toxic our grocery store checkout aisles had become – filled with nothing but junk food/beverages and junk news promoting disturbing images and headlines inappropriate for young children. And unfortunately, there was no way to avoid it because all 30+ checkouts were filled with the same products.
So I left a request with customer service for a family-friendly checkout aisle. After five years nothing had changed, so I decided to start a petition as a way to show Meijer that there is demand for such aisles. The fact that I admire Meijer and all it does for our communities in the Midwest played a key role in my decision to petition the company. Meijer says it values “helping customers lead healthier lives” and “treating customers with dignity and respect,” so it seemed that a healthy checkout aisle was precisely the sort of service that Meijer should and would offer.
Are there any comments on the petition that stand out to you?
There are just over 500 comments and they are all inspiring! However, the comments that truly tell the story of why healthy checkouts are so greatly needed are the personal comments. Each time I read them I think, “If these were my customers, I would do all I could to make the necessary changes.”
For instance, one signer battling Stage 4 cancer — and with three months left to live — wrote that finding convenient healthy foods has always been a challenge, more now than ever. Another gentleman, who describes himself as a ‘BIG guy,’ admitted that it’s often difficult for him to make last minute healthy decisions, something not helped by the checkout line. And a mom of seven children said that she’s often forced to turn the magazines around, for fear that her kids will see the troubling headlines and negative images.
You’ve received some media coverage for your petition. How did they hear about your petition?
I sent a press release to every news agency within the six-state area where Meijer’s 200+ stores are located. Judy Putnam at the Lansing State Journal was the first to cover the story. It was then picked up by the Detroit Free Press and then by national news media. One of the best things about the petition and the news coverage is that it has encouraged more people to reevaluate these spaces and consider the possible effects they have on our health and the health of our children.
Your 1,500 signatures you got the attention of Meier’s corporate office. How did your conversation with them go?
Frank Guglielmi, Meijer’s Director of Communications, said that they’ve received our message “loud and clear,” and that their merchandising team will take into consideration the types of products we’ve suggested. He also offered to notify me when future testing is done, so we can see what and how it’s being tested. That part was promising.
However, it was disappointing to hear Meijer’s philosophy regarding the products it sells at checkout. Not only is “impulse buying” thought to be a non-issue, but Meijer believes in selling whatever products it can as long as people continue to buy them, regardless of the fact that they are harmful to our physical and mental health. And therein lies the problem.
How do you help a “family-owned and family-friendly” retailer see that there is an expectation of social responsibility when it comes to the types of products placed at the eye-level of children in its “family-friendly” checkout aisles? And how do you get that retailer to acknowledge that 30-plus aisles of the same junk food and tabloids in every Meijer store is in no way taking care of and satisfying as many customers — in its “broad and diverse customer base” — as it can?
Obviously, there is a lot of work to be done. So I’ve asked for an opportunity to present Meijer’s merchandising team and its health and wellness team with ideas for testing a healthy checkout aisle rather than just testing a handful of products – and to encourage these two departments to work together at checkout!
What’s next for your campaign?
The petition will stay open, and we’ll wait to hear back from Mr. Guglielmi regarding notification of future testing sites and the request for a presentation. I’ll continue advocating for healthy checkouts as part of the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s healthy checkout aisle subcommittee, as well as by attending local coalition meetings on childhood obesity.
Petition supporters should continue to call Meijer to request healthy checkouts, and also consider starting petitions aimed at their local grocery stores. If anyone is interested in working on healthy checkouts at any store in their community, they can contact me and/or connect with Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.
What tips do you have for others looking to start their own petitions?
Do your research. Know your message. Stay positive. Connect with those working on similar issues.
Pulin Modi is a senior campaigner with Change.org.