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JustAsk prepaid gift cards now available at Duane Reade

BY Antoinette Alexander

NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. Duane Reade stores now are carrying JustAsk prepaid gift cards in time for the fall semester to provide college-aged kids with access to savings and resources through their own personal savings assistants.

JustAsk services include a host of such online resources as how-to videos, recipes, local news and events, local Yellow Pages and TV listings. There also is an “Ask a Question” search engine, which should come in very handy for college students away from home.

JustAsk prepaid gift cardsare a product of Concierge Direct International.

JustAsk prepaid gift cards come in two denominations — $10 and $20. The $10 card entitles cardholders to four service requests while the $20 card provides one full month of unlimited service requests upon activation. No subscription is required.

According to JustAsk, 93% of customers save more than the cost of their prepaid cards after two service requests. JustAsk personal savings assistants also can save students time and effort and they’re available 24/7 by telephone, e-mail, online or smartphone.

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School cuts expand BTS shopping lists; reluctant shoppers to extend season

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK For most food, drug and mass merchandise retailers, back-to-school season means doing brisk business in pencils, notebooks, paper and backpacks.

But according to published reports, reductions in funding for school districts across the country because of lower tax revenues and spending cuts have forced many school districts to add a host of unexpected items to Junior’s must-have list of school supplies.

The New York Times recently reported that students in some cities now are being asked to buy such items as plastic cutlery, garbage bags, printer paper and even toilet paper.

It’s hard to say that kids having to bring their own toilet paper to school is a good thing, but the expanded list of school supplies does give retailers a new aisle in which to put such products and clear out inventory. And it may not be too late, either. According to Bloomberg, consumers on the lookout for discounts and retailers looking to keep their profits up may cause the back-to-school shopping season –– generally one of the busiest of the year –– to extend well into September.

So far, the trend hasn’t translated into huge increases in sales of those items in the food, drug and mass channels. According to Chicago-based market research firm SymphonyIRI Group, food and trash bags –– one of the categories mentioned in the Times article –– had sales of $1.9 billion during the 52-week period ended July 11, a 5.6% drop from the same period the year before. Facial tissue sales were $982.8 million, 2.9% less than the year before, while toilet paper sales were $4.1 billion, a 0.85% decrease. Then again, pens and pencils also fell in sales by 0.61% even as children’s art supplies experienced a 1.21% sales increase.

But whatever the data may or may not indicate, continued school budget cuts likely will cause many to have to forego many basic items and rely on students to buy them, thus giving retailers a chance to provide them.

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Former National Retail Federation executive joins FMI

BY Allison Cerra

ARLINGTON, Va. The Food Marketing Institute last week appointed a new VP industry relations.

Rhett Asher joined FMI from the National Retail Federation, where he served as VP loss prevention. Asher served in a similar capacity at the Retail Industry Leaders Association from 2003 to 2006. He will be responsible for enhancing the capabilities and services of industry relations at FMI, specifically the FMI/GMA Trading Partner Alliance. He also will support other programs, including loss prevention and risk management, technology, and marketing and merchandising.

“Rhett has extensive retail and association management experience that will be very valuable to our members,” said FMI president and CEO Leslie Sarasin. “He is highly regarded within the industry for his knowledge of loss prevention issues, and we are excited to have him join FMI.”

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