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Is Kings Campaign Enough to Gain Critical Mass?

Is Kings Campaign Enough to Gain Critical Mass?

Simple text messages have the power to initiate change. I realized that shortly after the earthquake hit Haiti when Americans contributed millions — one $10 donation at a time — by texting “REDCROSS” to 90999. In many cases the action was spontaneous. There were no checks to sign or credit card numbers to submit. The amount was simply added to the contributors cell phone bill.

Now Kings Super Markets hopes to reach a similar tipping point with a first-of-its kind mobile messaging program.

The effort is designed to document for New Jersey legislators grass-roots support for the New Jersey Supermarket Economic Development Act (see the story here).

If passed it would raise the limit on liquor licenses from two per supermarket chain to 10 over 10 years. The pilot is tied to the New Jersey Food Council and its One Stop Shop NJ campaign, which advocates less restrictive liquor licensing laws.

Kings urges shoppers to cast their “vote” by posting instructions on digital screens at checkout. The message appears for 10 seconds.

Shoppers who support the bill simply text a vanity code such as “CHOICE” to 38681. Before the bill is heard before the state Legislature, phone numbers will be separated by vanity code (each store has a different one), tallied and sent to representatives for each store's district. All of the chain's 26 stores are participating.

As a New Jersey resident who'd like to buy beer and wine at my local grocery store, I admire the campaign's inventiveness. It provides a quick and easy way for the 56% of state residents who support the change, to stand up against the powerful packaged goods and wholesale liquor lobby in a way food retailers cannot. “When the public gets engaged, legislators listen,” said NJFC President Linda Doherty.

Indeed the bill will likely gain traction as a result of Kings' campaign. But I can't help but notice room for improvement. Instead of just encouraging text messaging at checkout, why not spread the word in other ways? Surely the effort can exist without the digital screens used at Kings — the only retailer currently testingthe program.

It seems the message could be just as effective, if not more, when read from a poster hung in other areas where shoppers frequently loiter, like the deli, meat and seafood counters. Such signage would also make the program accessible to other food retailers in the state.

A message printed on a register receipt could likewise do the trick. Supermarkets could even appeal to frequent texters by sending the message to members of their mobile messaging club.

Unfortunately, simple steps to broaden the pilot's reach won't likely be taken before the bill is heard, according to Doherty, who said, “There is so much potential to this technology that we're just realizing its reach.”

In the meantime, I hope New Jersey legislators don't kill the buzz.

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