Consumer Body Slams UK School Equipment Promos

07 December 2001

Which? magazine, the voice of Britain's combative Consumers’ Association, has slammed school equipment voucher schemes run by retailers and food manufacturers, dismissing them as “poor value for money” and “marketing ploys of questionable benefit”.

The principal proponent of such “ploys”, supermarket giant Tesco, cast its hands aloft in pious indignation and called the criticism “astonishing”. The chain conceded that in areas with competing supermarkets [eg, virtually every town where Tesco is located], the incentive might give it an edge. However, it insists the main reason for running the scheme – now in its 10th year – is to support the communities in which it operates.

Which?, as usual, had researched its case with care. Parents of schoolkids, it said, needed to spend around £220,000 in Tesco to earn enough vouchers to buy a computer worth less than £1,000. A scanner costs the shopping-trolley equivalent of £45,000, whereas on Tesco's shelves it retails at £80.

On this basis, the scheme offers substantially less value than Tesco’s flagship Clubcard loyalty scheme which rebates one percent of shoppers’ bills.

Some participants, however, are unfazed. “It does seem a lot of money, but then I suppose people aren't shopping there just to buy a computer,” said a representative of St Stephen’s C of E Junior School in south-west London.

“It’s not as if you are going out just for that - you are shopping there anyway. If people are spending it anyway, we are happy to benefit. I mean, it would be much cheaper just to go out and buy a computer, but it's a way of getting parents involved.”

Which? also trained its guns on a similar scheme – the annual ‘Free Books for Schools’ promo run jointly by PepsiCo’s Walkers Crisps brand and News International. All schools in the UK and Republic of Ireland are eligible to take part – and most have done so. But although the magazine judged this scheme better value for money than Tesco’s, its returns were still “modest”.

The promo also drew the wrath of teachers and nutritionists. “[Crisps] are not on the list of healthy foods that we want to encourage our children to eat in school,” said Bridgend head teacher Iwan Guy. The National Audit Office also weighed-in, declaring that the products promoted detracted from the government's healthy eating messages.

News source: BBC Online Business News (UK)