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Companies ending distribution of coupons

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EDITOR'S NOTE: (This story is from The Maine Edge's annual April Fools Day edition. As such, you can safely assume that most of it - if not all of it - is totally made-up.) 

NEW YORK In a series of announcements that shocked consumers and advocates across the country, major manufacturers said this week that all were ending their distribution of coupons.

The announcements, timed minutes apart that appeared to some as having been well planned, essentially stated the companies felt the time had come to end the longstanding tradition of couponing, Citing both distribution costs and a desire to push up product margins, the consensus in the announcements by Johnson & Johnson, Proctor and Gamble and several others spelled doom for an industry that distributes over 300 million coupons a year, which last year saved consumers $4.6 billion.

And some are crying foul.

'There appears to be collusion among these companies in ending couponing, and I'm not sure if that's legal,' said William Pletnau, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney General's office. 'The fact that these announcements were so close together with no knowledge beforehand, it certainly doesn't pass the smell test for us.'

But according to Johnson & Johnson spokesman Brent Islesbeau, the company had planned several years ago to end all coupons by 2012 but continued the program until all suppliers had been notified of the change.

'We had no idea other companies were going to do this,' he said. 'We made our own decision based on metrics that indicated we could no longer support the programs. The fact that others are doing it well, hey, I guess we made the right decision.'

Despite redemptions that are only increasing amid a tight economy, Kraft spokesman Nadal Martinez said couponing was becoming obsolete, as many of those who do so are only doing it for the game versus the actual cost savings that come with it.

'We've been looking at this for a while, and we determined that the average coupon user is of a higher socio-economic group that can afford what we charge for our products,' Martinez said. 'We felt they could afford to pay more but were just playing the coupon game, so we're going to stand by our prices. For those who can't, we had to make the decision on whether we want those customers anyway.'

Such remarks outraged congressional members and consumer advocacy groups, some of which promised to look into the announcements and possibly take legal action.

'If there are anti-trust issues at stake here, it's certainly worth going to court,' said Selma Weatherbee, an activist for the Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Rights advocacy group. 'They just can't wipe out billions of dollars from the economy, most of which affects lower income individuals, and expect to come out of this neat and clean. In my mind, this means war.'

Such anger doesn't faze Kraft's Martinez, who confirmed the company didn't discuss the tactic with others before making their announcement mere minutes after both General Mills and Proctor and Gamble.

'Hey, we didn't start this whole couponing craze of years ago, we were just sucked in by it,' he said. 'But that doesn't mean we can't end it and make you pay more.'

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