Feb. 15 2017 12:39 AM

Local mom asks Meijer for healthy checkout aisles

Local artist Jane Kramer has started an online petition to ask Meijer to offer healthy checkout lanes that aren’t filled with candy, sugary drinks and tabloids.
Eve Kucharski/City Pulse
Local photographer and artist Jane Kramer started a petition on change. org after she couldn’t get past Meijer’s customer service desk last fall. The petition, which asks the Michigan-based megastore chain to rethink the shelves of candy, sugary drinks and tabloid magazines found at the store’s checkout lanes, has gathered nearly 1,400 signatures. But the origin of Kramer’s campaign stretches back even further.

“I asked for a family-friendly aisle five years ago,” Kramer said. “Then back in September, I contacted customer service again and tried to get somebody in corporate, but they told me that wasn’t something that they did. That told me that I’m not going to get this message across to anybody if I’m just leaving it as kind of a suggestion box idea.”

Kramer is asking for at least one “healthy checkout aisle” in every Meijer store, filled with healthy treats and child-appropriate reading material.

“Why don’t we model better eating habits and eating choices to our kids?” she asked. “Why do we have to be continuously navigating around these harmful choices, when we could be surrounding ourselves with healthy food?” Kramer’s son was the inspiration for this petition. After she began shopping with her son, Kramer said, shopping trips became far longer than before. By the end of her grocery run, she and her child were both exhausted and hungry but found no healthy options at checkout.

“I wanted to buy him something healthy in the checkout aisle, and there was nothing available like carrots,” Kramer said, adding that tabloid magazines, which often feature headlines about sex and drugs, made the situation worse.

“He asked me about some inappropriate things (he saw on tabloids), which I would prefer not to have to discuss in a family grocery store,” she said.

Kramer’s struggle caught the attention of others, and ABC’s “Good Morning America” featured her petition. Though the appearance garnered support for the petition, it also fueled some critics. The show’s Twitter page exploded with tweets accusing Kramer of being unable to parent her son.

“I never had any problem saying no to him,” Kramer said. “I think on social media, people just feed off of each other, and that negativity just grows and grows.”

Kramer said that she understands that Meijer is a business that ultimately seeks to make a profit, but she argues that just one checkout lane would give parents a better option and wouldn’t make a huge impact in sales.

When asked about Kramer’s petition, Meijer’s senior director of communications, Frank Guglielmi, offered this statement:

“Millions of customers come to Meijer each week and our goal is to ensure our offerings appeal to the needs of a very broad and diverse customer base. We are proud of the healthy choices we offer throughout our stores, as well as the fact that our customers can count on us for all of their shopping needs, whatever their buying preference.”

Patricia Huddleston, a professor of retailing in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations at Michigan State University, seconds that opinion.

“If you think of a store like Meijer and the proportion of their total consumable merchandise, food and beverages that are represented at the checkout is a really, really small percentage,” Huddleston said. “I don’t think that a decision to change up some of the merchandise at the point of point of purchase is going to have a big impact on their bottom line.”

Huddleston also points out that when a customer is looking to purchase their groceries, the products found in the checkout aisle are usually the least of their worries.

“I think most people, when they’re selecting a checkout line, select it on the length of the line and how long they anticipate they’re going to have to wait,” she said. “So unless a checkout was labeled as a healthy options checkout, I’m not sure that people would pay attention before they actually got into the line.”

As it turns out, the idea isn’t a new one. Supermarket chains like Aldi and Raley’s have already introduced healthy checkout stands.

“We know impulsive choices happen at the check stand. We are proud to take a brave next step by making it easier for shoppers to choose healthy, more nutritious options,” said Raley’s COO Keith Knopf in a 2016 article for groceryheadquarters.com.

Kramer said she would like to make clear that she is not attacking Meijer. She is a loyal customer, and she appreciates the company’s contributions to cardiovascular health through the Meijer Heart Center. Her goal is to promote children’s health first and feels that the company could only benefit from her suggestion.

“I’m so surprised that Meijer hasn’t done this already, that is just crazy to me,” Kramer said. “It just seemed to fit so well with the ideology of the whole company and what they’re promoting.”