The Fresh Market at the Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley caters to a clientele supposedly both wealthy and educated, the upper crust of the provincial area. But often with education comes a feeling of social responsibility, at least in principle. Not necessarily in practice, as I found out one afternoon, while shopping there.
As I moseyed down the resplendent aisles tastefully arranged with delicacies unsuited to the pedestrian palette, I also encountered a cornucopia of the basic, everyman, homegrown victuals most Americans have come to know and love (and eat), like apples and oranges, bread, cheese, eggs, meat, and more.
And though I must admit that I would not choose to shop there for staple foods, I found myself on the verge of hunger and hoping to buy a few quick items for that night’s meal. As I waited in line to check out, I couldn’t help but notice the fresh faced patrons, a clean cut and prosperous looking bunch, people so wealthy that they didn’t even have to try hard to look wealthy.
But looks can be deceiving. I was there too, I with my paltry journalist’s pay, possibly on the brink of being eligible for food stamps in this uncertain economy.
The harsh reality is that one heck of a lot of people are out of work. The unemployment rate for Pennsylvania is dropping by increments only as people are dropping off the radar. People are moving back home with older parents, going on welfare, living off savings or if lucky, going back to school in hopes of job retraining. College graduates, educated professionals are for the first time experiencing what it is to become poor, to live on food stamps, perhaps, while considering downsizing to section 8 housing.
So when I got to the front of the line, I blurted out “Do you guys accept food stamps?” Not that I had them. I was at first only joking, but while standing in the cue I had been musing about how things were really getting tight and I might just see if I qualified for the SNAP (food stamp) program. I fully expected the friendly cashier to say “Of course we do!”–it was almost a given in my mind, for in this economy I couldn’t conceive of ANY food store choosing not to participate in the food stamp program.
I was told that Fresh Market does not accept food stamps. When I expressed surprise (which was really outrage forced into the thin guise of surprise), the cashier even agreed with me, surprised himself. Just to double check, I asked one of the front end managers who assured me that Fresh Market does certainly NOT accept food stamps. It seemed she was proud of that fact.
I asked both the cashier and the manager if this seemed like discrimination against the poor, but to that there was no reply. (Crickets chirping in the silence…)
It was all too weird to be true. I had to find out if this actually was the policy, if Fresh Market was so obsessed with its image as the hoity-toity gourmet that it had, like its wealthy human brethren, lost complete touch with reality, with the economy, with what was going on in the world.
I got in touch with Kristen Cowart, a public relations representative for Fresh Market, and asked her about the chain’s policies. She said, via email, ”The Fresh Market does not currently accept EBT cards or food stamps… because we have concluded that the costs associated with participating in the program currently outweigh the benefits for The Fresh Market and its customers.”
When asked about the costs of the SNAP program to retailers, Jean Daniel of the USDA said there was no cost to retailers. “Retailers are not required to accept the program, it’s a business decision. We’ve seen a number of stores come on board recently, (like) Target and Costco, mainly because retailers understand that’s part of a business model. We can’t compel retailers to accept the program”. Daniel says 85% of all retailers that accept SNAP are grocery stores.
When I got back to Kristen Cowart of Fresh Market, confronting her with the USDA policy, she said, via email, “It is true that there is no government-associated cost to participate in the SNAP and WIC programs; however the cost to retailers is in the payment systems – software, hardware, data entry and administration – required to process transactions using EBT.” Does anyone think for even a moment that Fresh Market is not already paying for most if not all of the above costs?
But when asked if she was aware that a grocery store having a policy of not accepting food stamps could be interpreted as a form of financial discrimination against poorer people, there was no response.
It boils down to this:
What The Heck was Fresh Market thinking, denying poor people access to groceries? In this economy?! What an elitist approach to business and customer service. But I guess you want to keep the riff-raff out. And why would you think that people on food stamps or even welfare don’t deserve to have a few special foods when they want? No, these aid recipients may not be your targeted clientele, but they’re human beings, like you and me, and some of them may have recently been making a decent living before getting laid off when the big bad economy blew their roof in. Many may go on to make a heck of a lot more money than your average employee makes. Then they will be your targeted clientele, but they won’t shop with you then, because you denied them now!
Many of your current patrons, who though wealthy, have great social conscience, will be shocked and appalled to know that Fresh Market practices financial discrimination, which can, needless to say, often result in racial discrimination. Think about it.
Fresh Market to the poor: “Let them eat cake, but don’t let them do it here! Don’t you dare desire that slice of brie with your Saltine crackers and ketchup soup!”
Shakur Pfist to Fresh Market: You might care about your customers, but you don’t care about people.