Monday, April 19, 2010

How 5¢ Blemishes A Brand

The shopping experience today is getting greedier on the alter of the green environment. I take offense to this change in service. The #1 perpetrator is the grocery store. Not long ago, it used to be that you paid your money and the check out person and/or "bag boy" would pack your groceries into multiple paper or plastic bags - your choice.

NOW they charge you 5¢ per plastic bag (no paper available) AND you now have to scramble and pack them yourself before the next person's groceries starting piling up. They say it is for a greener planet - I say it's greed - pure and simple.

5¢ bags deliver a new revenue stream where before it was a cost of doing business, (but still rolled into the end price). Due to their volumes, those bags cost them a fraction of a cent each, so at 5¢ that's quite a money maker across the entire chain.

This evening I was at a (Swiss-Chalet) rib and chicken chain take-out where they put on the counter multiple packages. Now they asked the patron if they wanted a plastic bag? People just looked at the girl with a puzzled look - because if they say no, how does the restaurant honestly expect them to cart the food home without dropping everything? I say just roll the 5¢ into the price. Don't rub it into our face using the green excuse. The reality is you love this new revenue. Greed - pure and simple!

With Swiss Chalet, if they really cared about the environment, then why are ALL of their containers plastic, their cutlery is plastic and their now 5¢ bags are plastic.

I think all these greedy stores would look more sincere if they offered a paper bag for free as an additional option. But of course there's no money in that. Why they tossed out service with the bag is a black spot on their brand and that's a shame.


Considered Approach said...

The 5c per plastic bag is hardly greed. The cost of these bags is put in as a deterrent measure for consumers to force them to think twice about carrying home their purchases in a device that contributes to the problem of unbiodegradable landfill.

Even if, as you suggest, that's not what these business have at their heart - perhaps their greed shoud be considered as a useful step towards less waste in our consumer-centric society.

"Cost" has been proven time and time again to be a strong influence on human behaviour so it makes sense to charge people if they refuse to take a step in the right direction for the environment.

If you have a problem paying 5c for a plastic bag, invest $5 dollars in 5 degradable cotton or other degradable material bags that'll last you longer and will breakdown in our lifetime, or better yet, take a backpack when you go grocery shopping and re-use it. The $30 or so you spend on a backpack will last you years, create less landfill and save you money in the long run.

Obviously I can't speak for every one but most of the plastic containers that fast food outlets use are in fact recyclable - manufacturing has finally caught up with the need for recyclable takeaway containers - the typical plastic bags you get at a grocery store are not recyclable and so we as consumers need to create a demand for a better alternative.

Yes, there has been a movement in chains switching to biodegradable plastic bags as an alternative and these business should be applauded. If everyone stopped paying 5c for plastic bags offered at point of sale by grocery stores, then the demand of these bags by stores would slowly diminish and one would imagine shift - either to biodegradable options or even no plastic bags at all. The flow on effect will mean that manufacturers of plastic bags will need to change their processes to cater for the greener demands of the population which essentially means less waste and I really don't believe that would be considered a bad thing.

Ed Roach said...

CA, don't you find it odd that these supposedly environmentally conscience grocery stores are picking on the least of the problem - namely the plastic bags? How about the plastic packaging of the products they sell. Why are they not demanding that they (their suppliers) clean up their act. They do have that power you know? Why don't grocers exercise this power if they really care. What a super green story that would be!

I suggest that there's no money to be made. 5¢ is not a deterrent but a shrug. If it were a dollar a bag then I think you'd have a point. When I forget to bring in my bags, I'd rather pay 20¢ than go back out to the trunk to get them.

Have the stores in your area also stopping packing as mine have? More productivity equals more profit.

Don't forget most of the reusable bags they sell to us are made from petrolium products- and so their carbon footprint isn't so minimal as one might expect.

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, I think it's a money grab. My fear is that every store is going to cash in and service is also going to the landfill as well!

For the record, a great example of a company that really talks a green story is McDonald's. Years ago, before everybody, they tossed out all their styrofoam packaging and replaced it with paper and cardboard. And guess what, they didn't suck 5¢ out of your pocket to do it. They did it because it was the right thing to do. To me that is a great brand story. They could have gotten greedy and raised the prices to offset the additional cost BUT they didn't. What was awesome was ALL their competition followed them.

Considered Approach said...

Apparently my comment is too long so i'll split it in two:
Ed, regarding the plastic packaging stores sell as an argument for a truly 'green store' - isn't that a bit like a child saying, "well, my parents are cigarette smokers so I may as well become a smoker too because i'm probably going to get lung cancer anyway." Surely a small step in the right direction is better than no step at all.

If consumers were charged a higher amount for goods sold in non-biodegradable packaging then i would put money on it they would choose the biodegradable packaging everytime - whether it's a conscience 'green-move' or not.

It's just a shame that it's more expensive at this point for manufacturers to change their processes that were setup up in the industrial revolution where the focus on the environmental impacts of over-production was simply not factored in to the business model.

I'm not saying cost isn't the driving factor now but I would argue that stores themselves don't have the power to change a manufacturers processes, but consumers do, *we* do. If consumers stop buying a product, the grocery store begins to lose money on that product meaning they are less likely to order so much of it next time around. This then obviously filters down the supply/demand chain and forces manufacturers to bring their processes more inline with consumer demand if they still want to keep selling units and making profits. If consumer demand means biodegradable packaging - then manufacturers and grocery stores will obey otherwise they don't make a living.

Of course, this issue is much larger then the "consumer > store > manufacturer" chain. Governments need to play a larger role here too but that is opening up a whole new kettle of fish.

You suggest that upping the price to $1 would change consumer habits more quickly? I agree! Of course, the downside is that it would simply add more fuel to the fire for blogs like yours to comment on the 'greed' of stores - if you complain about 5c for a bag then imagine the uproar of going straight to $1. Again, it's about baby steps.

Considered Approach said...

and continuing:

I fully understand that we aren't going to change baby-boomer's habits in one day; behaviours that have now become expectations because it's been the same for their entire life, it's also what their parents did so it must be ok right? Is it safe to assume you may be part of this generation? The fact that you'd rather pay 20c for a bag at point of sale then go back to the car is part of the problem. We as humans are willing to sacrifice a bit of landfill so we don't have to walk 100m. And of course if you do this sort of thing in front of children, then it provides them with the same model, just as your parents may have influenced you. It's this core human behaviour that needs addressing. Cost will definitely play a part in that. A quick example of governmental influcence is in my neighbouring state in Australia who have actually banned plastic bags - you can read about how it here: Perhaps if plastic bags *were* $1 at point of sale this would make you remember the bag - or would it allow you to simply complain a little more fervently about the grocery stores ripping you off?

I agree with your last point about McDonalds, it was a very progressive move to reduce non-biodegradable landfill - of course, what you fail to mention here is that McDonalds has had many many years of profit-making, many many billions of dollars to allow them to change their manufacturing processes/demands overnight. You say they don't pass on that cost? I remember the days when a Big Mac was $2- and a lot larger compared to the ones that you get for $3.45 now. Yes inflation and a whole bunch of other economical factors play a part but to suggest they did it "without charging it on to the customer" seems a litte naive given your background.

Please don't get me wrong, I'm no environmental evangelist. I've come to your blog many times to scan your articles which I find very useful and most insightful and relative to the industry I work in. The only reason I commented really is because of my surprise that your opinion is so one-sided here. If only a few more people could see how powerful our decisions as consumers are in affecting the way 'the big companies' provide their products and services it might actually lead to change.

In response to the actual point of your article, I truly don't believe that adding 5c for a plastic bag is hurting a brand at all. Like you said yourself, you'd pay 20c for a bag providing that, when you weigh it up in your mind, the value of it outweighs the inconvenience of the alternative. Are you saying that the decisions about where you shop will now be made based on how much a grocery store charges you for bag? Would you drive an extra 2km to a shop where they don't charge for plastic bags?

Ed Roach said...


You make very good points. No I won't go where they don't charge for plastic bags just because of the nickel. I also think baby steps are important. I'd rather they ban plastic bags, because then you could believe the rhetoric on green. McDonald's didn't give you a choice. The landfills thank them for it.

My whole point is that by charging a nickel they are insulting my intelligence and their brand because (I believe) their motives are not true.

The fact that they added the reduced service to the equation adds to my argument.

I could be wrong sure. Their leger sheets would tell the story.

Your point on manufacturers not being able to change now is (respectfully) not true.

Case in point: A customer of mine is a supplier to Costco in the US and Canada. They (Costco) absolutely tell them how the packaging is designed AND manufactured if they want to sell there. All national and international chains have this kind of clout. Sears for instance stopped taking a suppliers products for 6 months because they failed to fill out their paperwork properly.

So if they "really" cared ...

I think we both agree on reducing what goes to our landfills, where we disagree is whether or not the 5¢ is a deterrent or money grab.

Considered Approach said...

Ed, good points. You're right, we could argue company motives for charging for plastic bags all day long. I think the reality is it's a bit of both.

It also seems clear to me now that we had slightly different interpretations of a 'grocery store' - i was certainly not thinking of scales as big as costco but more "Joe's family fruit market"... I have no doubt that the Costco's of the world could take bigger steps to being green - just like McDonalds did.

The reduction in service is also a point that rings true here. In Australia there are some large supermarkets that no longer do the bagging for you. To be honest, if it can be avoided I do my groceries with local, small business people - the local, "mom'n'pop" service (and lower prices for fresh produce) is a win win for me.

Thanks a lot for the discussion. Yours is one of many blogs I respect for your willingness to simply help people and to engage with their readers.

Ed Roach said...


Funny, I wasn't even taking the smaller Ma and Pa stores into my argument. I typically don't have issue with that size of operation as they seem to understand that customer relationships are key to their survival.

Thank you for your compliments about my blog. What you picked up on is what I think my brand stands for on AND off line - helping people. When I do get a lead they typically start the email with Deard "Ed" not Mr. Roach. This tells me they are comfortable with me already. I work very hard at this.

I must also add that you win the award for the longest comment. I didn't even know there was a limit. I hope you comment again. A different perspective is healthy :)

John Adams said...

OMG, I am so with you on this one Ed. We have about 20 of the supposed green bags (made mostly of plastic themselves) and ALWAYS forget them in the car or at home.

I really thought about this the other day at Zehrs. I watched the customers and bag people fumbling with the bags and thought this must actually be costing the store more money than it is saving them by a long run in customer loyalty and simply having to pay more bagging people.

My spouse is getting tired of me complaining about this but at least she understands why.

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