ROCHESTER, N.Y. — When Mars Petcare U.S. issued a pet food recall earlier this month, Wegmans immediately mined its loyalty card data and sent automated telephone calls to every person who had purchased the products with their loyalty card.
The calls advised them to return the recalled items to the service desk for a full refund.
Because some customers may not have used their card or updated their phone numbers, email notifications were also sent out about Franklin, Tenn.-based Mars Petcare's Sept. 12 voluntary recall of products manufactured at its Everson, Pa., facility.
Stemming from potential salmonella contamination, the recall involved various Pedigree-brand products, as well as private-label items, including Wal-Mart's Ol' Roy brand, produced between Feb. 18 and July 29, 2008.
At Wegmans, the recall involved four Pedigree dog food products, several varieties of Wegmans Bruiser dry dog food and all varieties of Wegmans Buju and Ziggie dry cat food. Other Bruiser-brand products — including Bruiser Healthy Mix variety, Kibble variety and Lean Kibble variety — remain on the shelf because they were made at a different plant.
In the email, Wegmans encouraged shoppers to update their Shoppers Club contact information so that they can receive recall notices and other information in the future.
“Although not a pet owner myself, I know how much people love their pets and think of them as a member of the family,” vice president of consumer affairs Mary Ellen Burris wrote in the email.
“We appreciate the trust you place in us,” Burris continued. “I want you to know that we'll seek out answers from the manufacturer and do everything we can to prevent this from happening in the future.”
A Wegmans spokeswoman declined further comment, except to say that the chain has used its loyalty card database to send phone and email notifications of other kinds.
Over the past year, there's been an increase in retailers using frequent-shopper card data to notify shoppers not only of products and promotions, but also food recalls and other important information, according to Michael Schiff, managing partner, Partners in Loyalty Marketing, a Chicago-based consultancy. Kroger and Wegmans are among the leaders in the practice, he said.
“For years, retailers had this wealth of information that they didn't mine themselves,” Schiff said. “But now they're getting more savvy with it.”
By sending out such food recall notices and other important information, a retailer can build trust and loyalty among its existing clientele.
“It demonstrates that the retailer is paying attention, looking out for their consumers and providing them with a better shopping experience,” said Rick Ferguson, editorial director of loyalty marketing consultancy and publisher Colloquy, Cincinnati.
Green Hills Farms, a single-unit operator in Syracuse, N.Y., doesn't have the resources for an automated telephone system. But it sends out emails to notify its shoppers of food recalls and other important notifications. The last time it used the email notification system was over the summer during the tomato recall.
“It's an inexpensive way to communicate with customers in a timely fashion,” Green Hills' management information systems director, Lisa Piron, told SN.
Consumers welcome such notifications because they come from a source they can trust, Piron said.