Kroger responds to reader’s complaints

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The Kroger Company has been emailing many O&AN readers, as well as members of the media, responses concerning the removal of the newspaper from its free publication distribution racks in the front of 34 of its stores in the Nashville area (see copies of these statements at the end of this story).

Jerry Jones, publisher of O&AN, said the statements contain "mistruths" and are misleading. He said the publication was approved, and he has a signed contract with the distribution company to prove it.

"Their response to our readers makes it appear that we placed our publication in their stores without approval from anyone," Jones said. "Nothing could be further from the truth."

Jones also pointed out that The Kroger Company allows other gay publications in other cities to distribute in their stores.

"Kroger is a large advertiser in Southern Voice, Atlanta’s gay newsweekly," Jones said. "And they allow Southern Voice to distribute in their free publication racks. How can the Kroger Company allow for such a double standard?  I also can’t see, based on their response, how Nashville Parent, the Nashville Scene or the numerous other publications they offer beyond real estate and auto buying guides fit into the categories they have outlined for their free publications. They either need to remove all of those publications from their stores as well, or allow us back in. It’s clear that diversity and inclusion are not part of their core values."

Christopher Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project (TEP), said Kroger was making a "really bad business decision."

"The facts are pointing to a discriminatory application of Kroger’s policies and a really bad business decision," Sanders said. "The GLBT community will continue to urge Kroger to reverse its actions, and we will continue to explore all available means to persuade them to do the right thing."

Emailed response from Kroger to customer comments:

From: service.representative@kroger.com  
Subject: Kroger Comment re: Out and About
Date: Sun, 3 Jun 2007 21:03:31 -0400 

Thank you for contacting The Kroger Co. We appreciate you taking the time to share your concern regarding the Out and About magazine. Please understand that Publications are placed on the racks in our stores by approval only. Other publications in the past that were not pre-approved were removed, as in the case with Out and About. We do not permit publications with a religious, political or other agenda. The racks are for real estate, auto, health and neighborhood type publications. 

Please be assured that diversity and inclusion are two of Kroger’s core values. We welcome all customers to our stores and value the contributions of all of our associates.

We hope this information is helpful to you and we appreciate your feedback regarding this issue. 

 
Regards, 
The Kroger Co.
Consumer Affairs 

Written statement emailed from Kroger to WSMV Channel 4 News:
Sent from melissa.eads@kroger.com on Friday, June 1

Kroger strives to be a store for the entire community and that necessitates remaining neutral on many issues. We think this is a fair approach to everyone. The free publication racks in many Kroger stores are managed by an outside organization that arranges distribution agreements with individual publications. We have had a long-standing policy in place that prohibits the third-party from distributing publications that promote political, religious or other specific agendas. If a publication is offered that does not meet the guidelines mentioned above, we do ask the distributor to remove it. That is what happened in this instance. We believe adhering to a neutral, fair policy regarding free publications is the right approach.

Letter to Kroger from O&AN’s consultant regarding the distribution application and approval process:

Ms. Eads,

I wanted to respond to you and clarify a couple of points regarding the letter you sent WSMV Channel 4 on Friday:

"Written statement emailed from Kroger to WSMV Channel 4 News:
Sent from
melissa.eads@kroger.com on Friday, June 1

Kroger strives to be a store for the entire community and that necessitates remaining neutral on many issues. We think this is a fair approach to everyone. The free publication racks in many Kroger stores are managed by an outside organization that arranges distribution agreements with individual publications. We have had a long-standing policy in place that prohibits the third-party from distributing publications that promote political, religious or other specific agendas. If a publication is offered that does not meet the guidelines mentioned above, we do ask the distributor to remove it. That is what happened in this instance. We believe adhering to a neutral, fair policy regarding free publications is the right approach."

First of all, perhaps you have not seen Out & About Magazine, although it was provided to your distributor, Distributech, prior to our contract for distribution. Out & About  is not unlike other issues in your rack, including All the Rage, The Scene and Parent Magazine.  It is a true news publication, that while geared to the GLBT community, does not promote political, religious or other agendas any more than other news products.  Much of the news reported in Out & About is also reported in the mainstream media. Our advertising also does not promote any agenda, but serves to promote the businesses of Nashville, regardless of whether or not they are GLBT owned and operated.

The second, and more troubling point, is you seem to indicate Out & About, or a third party, was responsible for distributing the product in your stores.

This could not be further from the truth. As a consultant working with Out & About Magazine, I worked through the appropriate channels to secure distribution in your stores. I began working with Distributech in September of 2006, and we finally signed the contract the latter part of April, to begin distribution with the May issue. At the time Jerry Jones, publisher of O&AN, signed the contract to distribute, a check was paid to Distributech in the amount of $1,720.50 to cover the first month of distribution.  So clearly, this was not a third party issue, but one agreed upon by your agent.

According to your Consumer Affairs Department, "Please be assured that diversity and inclusion are two of Kroger’s core values. We welcome all customers to our stores and value the contributions of all of our associates."  By pulling Out & About Magazine from your stores, you are proving that diversity and inclusion are not part of your core values.  If you were at all familiar with the product, you would know other publications you allow to be distributed are much more inflammatory and controversial. Your policy is also very inconsistent.  Not only do you allow GLBT publications in other markets, such as Atlanta, you actually support them through your advertising dollars.

I hope Kroger will reconsider their position on this decision, and prove to their customers they do not discriminate for any reason.

Sincerely,

Kimberly D. Council
Council Consulting Group
"Printing and Media Consulting"