LAKE PLACID - The state Attorney General's Office said in a press release Tuesday that it has reached an agreement with Price Chopper on allegedly misleading coupons, but a spokeswoman for the supermarket chain has called the announcement inflammatory.
Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said the agreement will require Price Chopper to "change the way it advertises and promotes its coupons in New York State." The supermarket chain will also pay a $100,000 penalty.
The agreement was reached after an investigation by the AG's office into complaints that Price Chopper coupons misled customers by not disclosing certain restrictions.
"In the current economy, it is more important than ever that consumers be presented with clear information about the terms and conditions of coupons and other sale offers," Schneiderman said in the release. "Price Chopper used deceptive business practices to mislead price-conscious consumers and extract hard-earned money from them by hindering their ability to shop competitively and save on groceries. Today's agreement ensures that consumers will be protected from misleading advertising at these stores in the future."
Contacted by the Enterprise Tuesday, Mona Golub, Price Chopper's vice president for Public Relations and Consumer & Marketing Services, took strong exception to Schneiderman's statements.
"We were appalled and disappointed by the inflammatory press release distributed earlier today by the NY OAG, as its portrayal of Price Chopper's conduct is false, misleading and inaccurate in significant respects, and is not supported by the Assurance of Discontinuance (AOD) to which Price Chopper agreed," Golub wrote in an emailed statement. "In fact, contrary to the Press Release, the AOD makes no assertion that Price Chopper acted intentionally to harm consumers or that its practices caused any losses, let alone millions of lost savings to its customers. We've been in direct contact with the OAG to express our concerns and are awaiting their response."
Schneiderman said his investigation revealed that Price Chopper "advertised that it accepted double coupons at its store locations without disclosing important restrictions that applied to that policy." The company then implemented a policy that limited the doubling of coupons up to 99 cents, according to the AG's office.
"Price Chopper failed to disclose this restriction in its advertisements leading consumers to believe that $1.00 coupons would be doubled," the release said. "Prior to this corporate policy, Price Chopper's double coupon policies had previously varied from store to store. A number of stores doubled coupons up to $1.00 whereas others restricted the face value of coupons that could be doubled."
Schneiderman said coupon restrictions must be clear to consumers, especially those who shop on a tight budget. Under the terms of the agreement, Price Chopper will be required to "clearly and conspicuously disclose any face value limits on coupon redemption."
But Golub said the agreement actually asserts that Price Chopper "inconsistently denoted in its advertising the dollar value limit of its double coupon policy during select weeks in June 2011, January 2012 and April 2012 in Syracuse and Cortland, NY.
"Our decision to sign this agreement was reached after considering the likely cost of alternative actions, and because settling the matter will allow us to focus on serving our customers, including offering double coupons up to $.99 in all 130 of our stores," she said.
Price Chopper has 79 stores in New York state, including one in Lake Placid and several throughout the North Country.
Contact Chris Morris at 891-2600 ext. 25 or firstname.lastname@example.org.