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It's free - but there's a catch

01 October, 2004
Page 22 
Here is a bit of a masterclass on ‘free’ drinks coolers. When Mohammed Arif bought his filling station and store two months ago in Cannock, Staffordshire, he thought he had bought all the fixtures and fittings as part of the deal. He renamed the business Top Shop Services, filled the cooler with the sort of drinks he believed his customers would readily buy, and commenced trading. Soon a rep happened by, representing GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and grumped at him that he had the wrong stuff in his cooler. She insisted that he could only stock Lucozade and Ribena in it. This was news to Mo as he had no agreement with GSK. He rang me because he remembered (as everyone does) the Wall’s ice cream case some years ago whereby the Monopolies and Mergers Commission ruled that Wall’s could not dictate what products went into its free freezers.
Wall’s still can’t monopolise its own freezers, but when this ruling was made (a Unilever spokesman and I worked it out at around 1990 working from collective memory), Wall’s impulse ice creams represented something like 17 out of the top 20. The soft drinks market is a tad more fragmented so even Coca-Cola Enterprises is allowed to insist you put nothing but CCE products in its free coolers. Coca-Cola, incidentally, offers retailers three options: zero rental for stocking only CCE brands; hire charge where, for a fee, you can stock the bottom couple of shelves with other brands; and outright purchase where you could fill it with Mars bars if you wanted (although CCE points out that the coolers are designed to house only packaged soft drinks).Many retailers seem to go for branded fridges – they are colourful and look good fully stocked with uniform, following-a-planogram range of products, and many manage to squeeze more than one into a tight selling space. A mix of branded and unbranded coolers (that you buy outright) seems a good idea.I spoke to GSK on Mo’s behalf and the company put me onto CPM, the agency which supplies the coolers. A spokesman at CPM said: “The majority of coolers are manufactured specially to be used with specific products. If you mix and match it will look odd from an aesthetics point of view and anyway we’re not in the business of providing space for competitors’ products. “The contract spells this out and when the shop changed hands the previous owner should have contacted us.” CPM and GSK accepted that not all previous owners think to do this and someone will be calling on Top Shop shortly with a contract. And incidentally, if you are interested in one of those free Lucozade coolers, ring 01844 262641 and they’ll tell you all about it.