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Kroger fuels up gas rewards program for Houston customers

BY Gail Hoffer

HOUSTON — Beginning April 13, Kroger customers in the Greater Houston area will be able to save up to $1 per gallon at 68 Kroger Fuel Centers through the grocer’s new fuel accumulation program.

Kroger’s latest gas savings initiative will allow shoppers to redeem up to 1,000 fuel points, which are earned through everyday grocery, prescription and gift card purchases using the Kroger Plus card, during a single fill-up.

"Houston is one of the most competitive markets in the nation, and to stay on top as the market share leader, Kroger will continue to roll out programs that benefit our customers and allow them to save on necessities like food and gas," said Bill Breetz, president of the Kroger Southwest division. "Our new fuel accumulation program will help shoppers save tremendously as gas prices continue to rise and the busy summer traveling season nears."

For each increment of 100 points customers earn, they will be awarded a 10-cents-per-gallon discount up to $1 at Kroger Fuel Centers. Kroger 1-2-3 REWARDS MasterCard card holders will be eligible to receive up to $1.05. For every $100 spent on groceries, excluding alcohol and tobacco, customers earn 100 points. Shoppers also can accrue points by purchasing prescriptions and gift cards. When a customer purchases a $50 gift card from the Kroger Gift Card Mall for self-use or as a present, the points are doubled, and they will receive 100 points. Additionally, 100 points are awarded for every two prescriptions that are filled or refilled at a Kroger Pharmacy, including $4 and $10 generic prescription drugs.

If a customer has accumulated 500 points, they will receive a discount of 50 cents per gallon at Kroger Fuel Centers. If they have racked up 1,000 points, they will be awarded a savings of $1 per gallon at the pump. Customers can track their points by viewing the bottom of their receipts for their latest balance. They also can check their points balance by registering their Kroger Plus card number at Kroger.com.

Points are available to use through the end of the following month in which they are earned. When filling up, a customer will always be offered the biggest discount available based on each month’s fuel point totals available in their account.

The retailer also noted that through Kroger’s partnership with Shell, shoppers still will be able to redeem 100 points to save 10 cents per gallon at more than 500 participating Shell locations in the Greater Houston area.

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USDA study: Ragweed season now 16 days longer

BY Michael Johnsen

BELTSVILLE, Md. — A U.S. Department of Agriculture study published in March in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that ragweed season is almost 16 days longer than it was in 1995 due to changes in the first frost line of the fall in North America. The first frost steadily has been creeping northward and later into the year, lead researcher Lewis Ziska wrote.

That’s 16 more days of allergy relief sales — especially good news for Chattem as it shepherds its recently switched Allegra antihistamine through its first year. “We will make very, very massive investments in terms of advertising and promotion, and we are in fact very confident, and even optimistic, that in a very, very short [time] we will reach sales levels [as high as] the two leading products in this field,” boasted Hanspeter Spek, president of global operations for Sanofi-Aventis, a few weeks before the actual launch at the beginning of March.

Though Allegra is not expected to reach the sales heights of $200 million-plus like its two second-generation antihistamine predecessors, Claritin and Zyrtec — which generated $222.5 million (up 5.4%) and $169.1 million (up 11.6%), respectively, across food, drug and mass (excluding Walmart) over the 52 weeks ended March 20, according to SymphonyIRI Group data — an incremental $100 million-plus to OTC allergy sales is not out of the question.

An extended ragweed season is advantageous for all allergy remedies, however. “For much of geographic North America, there are three distinct plant-based aeroallergen seasons,” Ziska wrote — tree pollen in the spring, grass pollen in the early summer and weed pollen, including ragweed, in the summer and fall. At least 10% of the U.S. population is ragweed sensitive, and an increase in ragweed pollen exposure could, in turn, increase allergic sensitization.

There are 17 different species of ragweed in the United States. These plants are most common in the rural areas of the East and Midwest, but are found throughout the country. A single ragweed plant can release as many as 1 billion grains of pollen over the course of a single season.

In northern areas of the United States, ragweed pollen release begins in early August and peaks by early September. An early frost in late September often shortens the ragweed season in northern areas. In the southern United States, the ragweed season begins later in August and continues through October. In Florida, there actually are some species of ragweed flowering during the winter and others that potentially flower year-round.

The study found the further north you went, the further extended the ragweed season became. In Georgetown, Texas, and Rogers, Ark., the season actually retract

ed by three to four days between 1995 and 2009. But in Papillion, Neb., which is 41 degrees north of the equator, the season extended 11 days to mid-October; in LaCrosse, Wis., which is almost 44 degrees north, the season extended 13 days (also ending now in mid-October); and in Fargo, N.D., almost 47 degrees north, the season has been extended 16 days to late September.

The USDA study found in two locations in Canada, both further north than 50 degrees latitude, the ragweed season has been extended by as many as 27 days from the 1995 season to the 2009 season.

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Ohio store helps consumers lead a ‘Safe & Ready Life’

BY Michael Johnsen

MILFORD, Ohio — While there’s little chance a tsunami or the gale-force winds of a Hurricane Katrina will ever come crashing through this Cincinnati suburb, John Vota’s Safe & Ready Life store provides home and family safety solutions, along with emergency supplies and services to help prepare homes for both everyday emergencies and natural catastrophes.

Safe & Ready Life wasn’t opened to cater to end-of-days theorists and survival specialists, necessarily, but for the everyday person. Most of the products can be found across mass retailers and specialty sports shops, but Vota’s concept brings it all into one place. “One of the challenges I’ve had in preparing for emergencies — you put together a list and realize you’ve got to go to 10 different places,” he said, and there is no guarantee that they’ll have what is needed.

“[For example], it’s very difficult to find emergency food with a five-year shelf life,” he said. Another item you wouldn’t necessarily find in the neighborhood drug store is an atmospheric water generator that creates potable water, literally out of thin air.

Safe & Ready Life features products from more than 70 vendors, Vota said. It is a free-standing store with some 2,500 selling sq. ft. featuring a red and blue color scheme — red for warning-type products and blue for safety, Vota said.

“It behooves people to become a little more educated on what is happening around them in terms of the ability of the government to supply our essential basic needs,” Vota said. That’s not as much a criticism of government services as it is an acknowledgement that natural disasters significantly can impede those government services.

Still, there aren’t many natural disasters blowing through the Cincinnati area. “That’s part of my challenge as a retailer,” Vota said. “What can happen here in Cincinnati? Ice storms can be a big deal,” he said.

Vota has discovered that even though his actual storefront is located in Ohio, his virtual storefront extends both west to the earthquake regions of California and south to the hurricane watch areas alongside the Gulf of Mexico.

Click here for exclusive photos of Safe & Ready Life.

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