Monday, October 8, 2012

Dear Kroger

I love my local Kroger store. I shop there a couple times a week, mostly because even though I have a list in my hand I still often somehow manage to leave the store without things that are written on it, but also because I just like the store. I almost always run into friends:

superboy goes to kroger

and it's usually just a calm, pleasant stop in my day.

That's why I was so disturbed last week when some brown-shirted facists tried to solicit money from me in front of the store by selling me substandard microwave popcorn. I've dealt with the Cub Scout and Boy Scouts selling popcorn before, and usually my polite, "No, thank you," is enough to deter them. Last week, though, one of the parents with the kids blurted, "Are you sure?"

Yeah, mister, I'm sure. I don't give money to the Republican party. I don't give money to Focus on the Family. I don't give money to Chik-Fil-A or to Dean Koontz, so I'm certainly not going to give money to you as you school your child in the fine art of bigotry.

I gave him a firm, "Yes," and my tone must have been sufficiently icy since he took a step back.

Later, I found myself still irritated by it, mostly by that last little, "Are you sure?" because I was very polite, and made a point of not lecturing him and his kid, and he couldn't even politely accept my, "No, thank you," and let me be on my way. Unable to track him down, I instead sent a letter to Kroger on Sunday:

Good morning.

I am a frequent customer at my local Kroger store, located at 4918 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN, and have been for five or six years. I shop there at least once a week, know some of the staff by name, frequently run into coworkers and neighbors there, and consider Kroger to be my neighborhood grocery store. While there is a Food City in walking distance of my apartment, I instead drive to Kroger (passing a second Food City along the way) because I know that I will find better value and have a better shopping experience there.

Given all of this, you can imagine my dismay when I stopped at Kroger on my way home from work on Friday night and discovered that Kroger is giving a fundraising platform for groups that support bigotry and discrimination. A group that has argued as high as the United States Supreme Court to prevent gay people from joining or participating in their organization was allowed to set up a table and sell popcorn to fundraise for their organization, allowing them to perpetuate that discrimination and to characterize gay people as not being "morally straight and clean in thought, word, and deed" according to the organization's own published policies.

The group I'm speaking of is the Boy Scouts of America. While I am aware that they are a philanthropic organization, they are also a philanthropy that promotes prejudice and marginalization of others. While I am aware that they are considered a positive organization for youth, their impact on youth who are homosexual or who have same-gender parents is less positive. The Boy Scouts also have a prohibition against membership and participation by atheists, a group that also shops at Kroger. In approving them to table in front of Kroger, the store suggests approval of these policies, and I'd like to believe that this is not the case.

In reviewing Kroger's website I was unable to find the specific policy regarding approval for tabling in front of the store, so I'm writing to ask how such approval is granted, and by what criteria? If a group forbids participation based on racial or socioeconomic reasons, would Kroger also approve them for tabling, or does Kroger consider some forms of discrimination to be less acceptable than others?

I look forward to your answers. I like shopping at my local Kroger, but would like to be reassured before I shop there again.

I immediately received a generic, "Your comments have been received and are very important to us" email, but a couple days went by before I heard anything else.

On Tuesday I received an email from an actual person:

Thank you for contacting The Kroger Family of Stores. We appreciate your feedback. Our company is committed to customer satisfaction and we value your input. Your comments have been forwarded to our management team for review and follow up. Thank you for your patronage and have a great day.

It was almost the generic email all over again, but it came from a person and suggested that someone might have actually read my email and thought, "Hey, this seems kind of legitimate." I patiently waited for a response.

And waited.

And kept waiting.

By Sunday, I hadn't heard anything, so I sent a reply:


It's been a week. Do you know if someone is still planning to get back to me?

This morning I received another email, from someone higher up the corportate ladder. This person is so much higher up, in fact, that their email signature informed me that I cannot republish it. It doesn't say that I can't paraphrase, though, so here's a breakdown of what they said:

First, they thanked me for my email and feedback. OK, you're welcome.

Second, they said that they tried to call me, and were unable to reach me by phone. That probably happened, because I don't answer calls from numbers that I don't recognize, especially during election season. I will note, though, that when I filled out the form and submitted my letter, I deliberately avoided checking the "it is ok to call me at home" box and gave them my email instead. Clearly, I didn't want a phone call, but let's move on.

Next they explained that they sometimes allow non-profits to fundraise in front of their stores, and that customers and Kroger employees sometimes feel very passionately about their charities. Kroger tries to stay neutral (except, I guess, for the Salvation Army links on their website; for those who are not aware, the Salvation Army has a somewhat crappy track record on LGBT issues), and values the diversity of all customers. They also hope that I will remain a Kroger shopper.

I will continue to be a Kroger shopper, I guess, but I am kind of annoyed by this email. While it offers a nice platitude about how valued I am as a customer ("We love taking your money! Please don't stop giving it to us!"), it doesn't answer any of my original points:

1) What is the process for gaining fundraising approval to table in front of Kroger?

2) Who is and is not approved?

3) How does Kroger feel about groups that discriminate?

I guess I'll never know.


JMBower said...

You know, I wonder if the Girl Scouts are as homophobic?

It's hard for me, having been in scouts to reconcile my experience (in which gay/straight wasn't even in the picture) and the bigotry that the national organization seems to want to interject into what is otherwise a pretty great group for kids. Unfortunately, I have to agree that being mostly a great organization doesn't excuse the massive failings of bigotry. I'd just probably also recognize that the kids on the street mostly aren't even aware this debate exists. Now, I'm not going to buy their popcorn anyway because it's crappy, and super expensive, and I could be buying girl scout cookies with that money...It's unfortunate that most of the kids and parents are caught in the crossfire.

Joel said...

The Girl Scouts make a point of welcoming everyone, even trans members.

lanette said...

I am writing because the Kroger Store @ 1700 North-wood Plaza,Franklin,IN the employee's are very rude so rude it makes you never ever want to spend your money there! They do not know the words Thank You! I shopped there 5-17-13 @ 4:38pm Kroger had a display of chips and Pepsi free for you would think the customers but the employee's grabbed plastic bags to load up! would not let customers near it until they were done, one left the customer service desk to load up others left the register they were on! now I do not care if I got free stuff but found it rude the employee's would act that way like they were in great need for chips! They looked stupid while they used bag after bag! I think every employee doing this should be fired for those are the ones that do not care about Kroger or the customers!
Thank You

Marcheline said...

I had a similar experience at my grocery store, so I marched up to the customer service desk and asked to speak to a manager. That way I got my answer in person and immediately.

I'm a former police officer. There's a local newspaper which regularly mis-reports the news, casting my old department in a bad light whenever possible. They are a bunch of ambulance-chasing nitwits, and I refuse to buy their paper.

Their table was set up at the entrance to my grocery store. I was aggressively hailed by a loudmouth salesperson. I stopped where I was, and just as loudly replied, "You couldn't pay ME enough money to read that rag - I'm certainly not paying YOU."

Several other shoppers stopped to listen, and the human bullhorn stepped back and found something interesting to study somewhere in the area of his shoelaces.