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BOGO ban

Have you ever found yourself drawn to a buy-one-get-one-free deal, even though you really only need one of whatever’s on sale? Maybe you’ll go ahead and grab two for the price of one, and give the extra away. Or stash it away for when you do need it. Or have it sit around until it expires, and then toss it.

That last option is what some British government leaders, who are gravely concerned about food waste, hope to prevent. So they’re proposing a solution – banning BOGOs in the country’s grocery stores altogether.

Well, that makes sense – in an overzealous, anti-free-market, nanny-state kind of way.

The proposal came in a dense publication called “Counting the Cost of Food Waste,” issued by the House of Lords’ European Union Committee last week.

In their otherwise well-meaning set of recommendations, which points out that consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as sub-Saharan Africa produces, they take aim at grocery stores for perpetuating the problem. “Retailers must assume a far greater responsibility for the prevention of food waste in the home,” the report reads. “Retailers must ensure that incentives and promotions offered to consumers do not transfer waste from the store to the household.”

One of the ways the report says retailers “transfer waste” is by enticing shoppers with BOGOs, to get them to buy extra items that they don’t need. “Consumers have a psychological, ‘reflexive’ response, in that although they may not have the storage space or need for the extra food, they will buy it because they feel they are getting a bargain,” the committee’s report states.

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Committee chairwoman Baroness Scott concluded by saying that “we are urging the supermarkets to look again at offers such as ‘buy one get one free’, which can encourage excess consumption which leads to food waste.”

The report falls short of proposing actual legislation. But that doesn’t mean it can’t, or won’t, happen. As outlandish as it may sound, the idea of a government ban on BOGOs is not even a new one. The UK Department of Health proposed a ban last year, and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs tried floating the concept of a BOGO ban back in 2009.

Groups like the British Retail Consortium have decried the very idea of a BOGO ban, calling it misguided and unnecessary. “People assume other shoppers are wasting food they buy on promotion,” the BRC’s Bob Gordon said back in 2011, but “over 90% are not wasting it themselves.” Food waste is a problem, he acknowledged, but BOGOs are not to blame. “We need to educate people to shop smarter and do better at managing the storage and use of food in their homes rather than blaming promotions,” he said.

Still, the very idea that the government might step in has spooked some retailers enough that they’ve dialed back on the BOGOs voluntarily.

In 2009, Walmart’s British subsidiary Asda did away with BOGOs and replaced them with lower everyday prices on staple items. And Sainsbury’s said last year that it had “moved away from buy one get one free, and instead we offer customers a mixture of promotions to suit their needs.”

So rather than shouting from the rooftops about the overreaching House of Lords proposal, the BRC this time is simply pointing out that many retailers have already regulated themselves. “They have also altered the way food is sold so promotions include ‘half price’, and ‘Buy One Get One Free Later’,” the BRC notes.

American shoppers might think such a proposal could never work in the Land of the (Buy One Get One) Free, but then that’s what many Brits thought the first time a ban on BOGOs was suggested there several years ago. And while the proposed ban has not become law, the mere threat of one has already prompted many retailers to act like it has.

So both sides seem to win, in a way – retailers can show there’s no need for a potentially intrusive government ban, by banning BOGOs themselves, while the government gets what it wants without having to pass a new law. And maybe next time, someone will even ask shoppers what they think.

3 Comments

  1. We have a store here that does Buy One Get One Free only the best thing about this store is I can actually buy one for half price. Or I can buy both, for the full price of one. Either way I want to roll.

    I love it.

  2. I am sick of politicians passing laws, or bureaucrats creating regulations, that interfere with the open market. And, as you pointed out in the article, all they have to do now is merely threaten to do something. They look for problems where none exist and come up with solutions that do very little to address the imaginary problem. When their solutions end up causing real problems, instead of repealing the initial law or regulation, they just pile on more.

    The most aggravating thing about it is that none of them actually care about solving problems or helping people. It’s really about increasing their power and making themselves appear to be useful.

    • That is so true, Lisa.
      They dream up B.S. like this all the while complaining about not having time/resources to tackle the real issues facing their citizens. (i.e. unemployment).

      If they took one of those ‘Gallup’ surveys about the most important issues facing the British people today-where do you think ‘food waste’ would rate?

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