Question: I recently presented a 25-cent coupon for Frusen Gladje ice cream at my local supermarket along with a store "double coupon." The checkout lady said it is against the law to double coupons for ice cream except for ice cream bars.
This seems strange to me, and I wonder if it is correct. If so, why is it OK for the manufacturer to issue discount coupons for ice cream but not OK for the store to double it? It doesn't seem to make sense.--H.C.
Answer: Life, supermarkets and, particularly, state regulatory agencies work in mysterious ways their bafflements to perform.
All supermarkets work under the same set of rules in handling coupons, according to Bonnie Lewis, Safeway Stores' local spokeswoman, and your checkout lady was essentially correct in what she said.
You'll find two broad categories of products specifically excluded from all supermarket coupon offerings: liquor and tobacco. You will, however, find rebate offerings attached to numerous tobacco, wine and liquor products, but invariably these are offered by the manufacturer (or winery or distillery).
Milk products fall into an entirely different, but almost as restrictive, category. Coupons attached to "fluid milk and milk products" are offered by local supermarkets, but as the lady said, double coupons on them are prohibited. A curious distinction.
"There's a dairy price jurisdiction regulation involved," according to Lewis, "which prohibits a store from selling milk and milk products below cost. And if we double the coupon it automatically drops the price below cost--most of the time, at least."
The state prohibition against selling dairy products below "the invoice cost plus the cost of doing business for the supermarket," a representative of the California Department of Food and Agriculture says, is a curious throwback to the days many years ago of "fair trade practices," which made it illegal to sell thousands of products below "cost."
As one court decision after another tossed out the legitimacy of these fair-trade, price-fixing arrangements, however--which opened up the age of the discount store and the practice of selling "loss leaders"--the manufacturers' and retailers' actual costs became more and more of an irrelevance as far as the consumer was concerned. Except with California milk products.
"Actually," the Department of Food and Agriculture executive says, "you can't coupon any fluid milk product at all. You can , however, coupon ice cream and yogurt--and can double-coupon them too--as long as the double coupon doesn't drop the overall price below cost. I know that a lot of stores don't coupon dairy products at all just to be on the safe side." Why "ice cream bars" would be exempt from this holdover prohibition, baffles everyone, however.
"I've asked about this," Safeway's Lewis adds, "and the consensus is that real ice cream bars would have the same double-coupon prohibition on them that ice cream, itself, would have. I think that what the checkout clerk meant was that fruit-and-ice bars, like Popsicles, would be exempt since they contain no whole milk."
Don't look for a lot of sense in all this. We're looking at a legal prohibition that goes back to the days of hand-churned dairy products.
Q: Are there any illegal aspects in sending lottery tickets to out-of-state friends or relatives? Or are there any problems in another state resident claiming a winning ticket?
I was told by an acquaintance that there was a federal law prohibiting distribution of lottery tickets out of state. Because I did send some to Wisconsin friends and relatives on their birthdays, I wrote twice to Box 94208, Sacramento, for clarification but have never received a response--even with a stamped return envelope.
If I have done an illegal action, should this get into print, I of course would not want my name published.--H.D.
A: Your secret is safe with us. It isn't really a "federal law" but a U.S. Postal Service restriction (Section 123.22) makes it unlawful to send a variety of things through the mail--including lottery tickets.
"But I wouldn't be surprised to learn that people are getting around it some way," Bob Taylor, communications manager for the Lottery Commission, concedes.
How many of us, one might ask, label the contents of a personal letter on the outside of the envelope?
Ironically, however, according to Dave Mozer, public information officer for the Postal Service, what's illegal across state lines is perfectly all right within the state. You can send lottery tickets from Los Angeles to your dear old aunt in Bakersfield without ruffling the Postal Service in the slightest.