CINCINNATI — Supermarkets are finding a little bit of green doesn't make a big difference in breaking shoppers of the "paper or plastic?" habit.
Some chains including Kroger and Safeway are starting to move away from pennies-per-bag rebates, saying they don't do enough to keep customers from forgetting reusables at home or in their cars.
Grocers save money when customers bring reusable bags. Cincinnati-based Kroger had been giving 3- to 5-cent rebates or fuel discounts for each reusable bag. But it ended the bonuses this year in some regions, including around Lexington. Customer feedback indicates most want to use reusable bags, company officials say; it's a matter of making it a habit. So Kroger officials say they're focusing more on promotions and investing in signs and other visible reminders.
Now, many Kroger parking lots have signs asking "Are your reusable bags still in the car?" Messages around stores tout the environmental value of bag reuse. Kroger also sent shoppers coupons for reusable bags, holds bag design contests and giveaways, and puts out containers for recycling plastic bags.
Kroger spokesman Brendon Cull says the company has found no significant difference between reusable bag frequency in markets with rebates and those without them.
Safeway also has been phasing out cash rebates such as 3 cents per bag in some regions. It's still dangling occasional discounts. Shoppers who use Safeway's reusable bags get 10 percent off Safeway's line of environmentally geared household products.
Moral appeals and trendiness are more powerful than small discounts, said Ted Brown, a consultant who helped develop one of the earliest reusable bag programs two decades ago. Make reusables fashionable and fun, and shoppers won't forget.
In 2010 half of shoppers said they "try" to bring reusable bags, up 10 percent over the prior year. However, half reported their use as never or less than monthly. "Getting consumers to change their habits is difficult under any economic conditions," said Joel Makower, executive editor of Greener World Media Inc. "Stubbornness is recession-proof."