Suppliers of Giant-Carlisle, the Ahold-owned banner based in Carlisle, Pa., recently received a holiday message from the chain: “Please don't give us any presents.”
At least, not any big presents. In a mailer that vendors received last week, the chain outlined what is and what is not allowed when it comes to employees receiving gifts from suppliers.
Unlike Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., which reportedly forbids its employees from receiving gifts of any value — even a cup of coffee — from its vendors, many supermarket operators appear to be a little more lenient. Although they have written policies, many leave some wiggle room that allows workers to accept “occasional” meals or gifts that are “not extravagant.”
Wal-Mart's policy was the subject of speculation surrounding the recent termination of a top ad executive, Julie Roehm. The company could not be reached for comment last week.
“We are not as strict as Wal-Mart,” said Neil Golub, chief executive officer, Price Chopper, Schenectady, N.Y., in an interview with SN. “We do allow some gifts, but we come down pretty hard when the policy is violated.”
The gifts, he said, must be “very nominal” and below a specified dollar value.
That more or less jibes with the policies of other large supermarket chains, including Giant-Carlisle, which also allows its employees to receive “nominal gifts” like an office supply or a T-shirt, the chain said in its mailing, but gifts of greater value must be returned or donated to charity.
Food Lion, Salisbury, N.C., “has a strict and detailed code of business ethics and conduct,” a spokesman for the chain told SN. The code discourages employees from accepting gifts “that could be seen as an attempt to influence business decisions.”
He explained that Food Lion employees are expected to “exercise reasonable judgment and discretion” in deciding whether to accept any gifts, and such gifts must be reported immediately to a supervisor.
In a policy posted on its website, Safeway, Pleasanton, Calif., said its employees “generally may not accept gifts, discounts, loans, services or gratuities.” However, exceptions are made for “gadgets” such as calendars and memo pads that bear an ad message or the name of the vendor.
Likewise, Safeway's code of conduct does not permit “lavish or extravagant entertainment” of its employees by vendors, although Safeway workers may accept “moderate meals or entertainment.”
Golub said Price Chopper also allows its employees to be entertained by vendors, provided those events are reported.
“There are certain times it's appropriate to have dinner with a vendor,” he said. “However, we do try to monitor it. We expect all of our people to note any time they have any kind of an event with a vendor.”
Giant-Carlisle also allows some entertainment of its employees, provided the vendor is in attendance.
Sears Holdings, parent of the Kmart chain, specifies in its code of vendor conduct, also posted online, that employees may accept non-cash gifts of less than $50 value that have not been requested or encouraged by the employee, and may attend “occasional rather than frequent” business meals where the vendor is present. Tickets to entertainment events may be accepted only if the vendor is reimbursed, but tickets to high-profile events like the Super Bowl “generally” may not be accepted.
Golub said an “honor system” is at work.
“If vendors want to spend money to get somebody's business, they can always do it clandestinely,” he said. “At least until they are caught.”