Manufacturer: We're not providing free pizza coupons to Extreme Couponers.

Schwan's, manufacturer of Freschetta, Tony's and Red Baron pizzas:
"We can confirm that we are not providing hundreds of free coupons to the show or its participants."

Extreme Couponing often shows shots of its participants humbly clipping coupons out of the newspaper at their kitchen tables... but most of the coupons they're using on the show don't come from any newspaper. Free-product coupons continue to number from the dozens to the hundreds on Extreme Couponing.

After last Monday's season 3 premiere, my email box blew up again:

"Really, more free pizza coupons?"
"The first shopper got 100 free pizzas?"
"Did you see that cart full of coupons for free pizzas?"

They were hard to miss. The first shopper in the Season 3 premiere, Erin Sanders, dumped many coupons for free Freschetta and Tony's pizzas in her cart:

By the end of her shopping trip, she purchased a lot of free pizzas with them:

One hundred free pizzas.

Strangely, this wasn't the first time we've seen free pizza coupons before, either:

During the previous All-Stars season, shoppers used free Freschetta and Red Baron coupons to score hundreds more free pizzas in several episodes. In the All-Star finale, the show's voiceover noted that the together, the three finalists, Chris Duff, Christine Perry and Joni Meyer-Crothers, purchased a total of 717 Freschetta and Red Baron pizzas in that single episode alone. Joni used additional free Freschetta pizza coupons in episode 3 of the All-Stars Season. And, in last night's Extreme Couponing episode, shopper Joyce Hansell also got free Red Baron pizzas as part of her shopping trip. The total number of pizzas purchased on the show with free coupons is currently over 800.

I've been reaching out to manufacturers whose coupons have appeared on the show in large quantities to inquire about the coupons' origins. Freschetta, Tony's, and Red Baron pizzas are all made by the same manufacturer, Schwan's. Is it possible Schwan's has been providing free-pizza coupons to multiple Extreme Couponing shoppers over the past two seasons?

On May 31st, Schwan's Communications Manager Chuck Blomberg responded with a statement:

Hello Jill,

Thanks for bringing this to our attention. We can confirm that we are not providing hundreds of free coupons to the show or its participants. We cannot speculate on the origins of the coupons. We are continuing to look into the matter.

I also reached out to Chris, Perry, Joni, Erin, and Joyce via their respective email addresses, blogs and online channels, asking where each of them obtained their free coupons, while expressing my concerns about the coupons' legitimacy if they did not come from the manufacturer.

At the time of this writing, Joni Meyer-Crothers is the only person who has responded. Via email:

"Thanks for your concern. I, myself, take the issue very seriously. I confirmed with the store directly that all the coupons I used were reimbursed and none were counterfeit."



joni's coupons

during the episode I think her first...she was shown using her computer and admitting to using a "clipping service"...when I saw the all-star episodes and then the finale I knew that poor Perry was out of her league (I wasn't a fan of Perry, but that's just because her personality rubbed me the wrong way) however I likely would have been in the same mind-set (sticking close to $700 and hoping the other two would mess up with $5k+ goals...and to be honest, clearly Perry did win the episode, had she not messed up with the sponges...after all, Chris cheated and likely so did Joni, if not on purpose....fame and being on tv and trying to prove a point will make honest people do things they normally wouldn't do...i'm always the first to give someone the benefit of the doubt, but clearly this whole thing was rigged...at least charities were benefitting and not the psychotic stockpiles

it may not be a counterfeit coupon ...

I know a few people that work as sales reps in the food and beverage industry for different companies. I have in the past been given several free coupons from my friends that get them from work for various food items. Not in these quantities, I'm talking 5. If I were Schwan, I would take a close look at who has access to the boxes of free coupons that are stored somewhere to distribute as customer relations, sales, or good faith gestures - someone, somewhere is "skimming off the top" and selling the coupons on ebay and making some extra money. That's my guess.

Big Fan of the Holograms

Both the promotional FREE Coffeemate coupon I received this year and my Coke Rewards FREE coupon have holograms. They're not small so I doubt a cashier would miss them. Plus the hologram is on the same side of the coupon as the barcode so it's not like it's something they have to search for. Kudos to the industry for this change. Hopefully it helps.

Jonis response

She should tell the source of her free coupons - bought on ebay, gifted to her from family, donated to her for use with her shopping trip by individuals.

There is no way that any one individual can have that many of the same coupon distributed by the manufacturer for this purpose without doing something illegal like buying it, supporting a counterfeiter, or having people en masse contact the company.

Its real interesting that the future minister still says nothing. You can be sure if he applied for a job at my church, I would make sure he talked loud and long. We take a dim view of this type of deception among clergy.

These people really think this is going to just go away if they pretend nothing is wrong.

I read a comment elsewhere, maybe it was on this blog on on facebook, from someone who was new and bought coupons on ebay - and recognized a counterfeit. She contacted the seller who never said oh this is where I got it from the manufacturer - instead, the seller said "no refunds, it worked for me". IT WORKED FOR ME? That means they have loads of em as as long as it passes, well ok.....that is so wrong.

Free item coupons should all have the holograph strip and be suspect if they do not have it, even if they scan.

And Ebay should shut down the counterfeiters and the sale of free item coupons. Why the justice dept doesnt crack down on this is beyond me. I guess this isnt fueling terrorism, just crooks.

I agree

I agree with everything you've said. The "It worked for me" excuse is just that - an excuse. If it is a color photocopy or litho of an existing, real coupon... of course the bar code is going to scan and it will "work." It doesn't make the coupon real.

If someone gives a counterfeit $20 bill to a cashier and the cashier accepts it, it also "works," but again - it's not real.

I just posted another article on the front page about a woman who was arrested for using over $9,000 worth of counterfeit coupons. Not making them - USING them. If I were one of these shoppers who has used questionable coupons, or known counterfeit coupons on television, I think I'd be pretty nervous reading that. Everyone should be wary of using anything that they can't trace the origins of.

Interesting...

The comment from Joni was interesting, but she still didn't day WHERE the coupons came from.....

Don't mess up the masses!

I just hope it doesn't mess things up for us 'regular' shoppers. I have a free Frescheta coupon, which I received in the mail from them due to a quality issue I had with a product. It looks exactly like the one in your post. I already have so many issues with my local Woodman's - they don't accept more than one like IP in a transaction, and only one FREE coupon per day per person.

I understand

Obviously, I'm speculating, but if a free coupon is out there, and it has no hard-to-duplicate features on it (i.e. hologram, security features) it also potentially opens itself to counterfeiting.

I'm looking into another coupon used in a large quantity by one of the Extreme Couponing shoppers, and that manufacturer wrote that it's the kind of coupon that they issue when there's a quality control issue, but they're issued one at a time, and no one should have that many of them at one time. But with today's technology, anyone with a scanner and a good print shop could likely make duplicates that are difficult to distinguish from the original.

Unfortunately, all it would take is one motivated person to complain about a product, get a free coupon that's easy to duplicate - and they're potentially in business at that point.

Here's an article from Retail Wire earlier this year talking about why manufacturers should use holograms on their free product coupons:

The jig is up for counterfeiters of free and high-value coupons.

Most consumer packaged goods marketers will issue coupons bearing a special standardized hologram sometime during the first half of 2012, said Bud Miller, executive director of the Coupon Information Council (CIC).

Holograms are three-dimensional photographic images that are printed on a special foil. Their use on the free and high-value coupons is expected to deter the distribution of unauthorized copies, which has been a nettlesome issue for years. With some individual counterfeit coupons defrauding a company of more than $1 million apiece, holograms are likely to save the industry big money.

"Holograms are the only tool in our toolkit that cannot be easily circumvented by people using business or home office equipment," Mr. Miller noted. "Everything else we've seen either can be replicated, or adjusted to the point where you can't really tell the original from the attempted replica, or it is just too esoteric and people won't notice the difference.

"A hologram is instantly recognizable. All a cashier just has to do is take a look at it. If they know what they are looking for, they will be able to verify that there is the CIC hologram on the coupon as quickly as their eye can see it," he said.

There is an extra cost to putting the hologram on coupons — some estimate it to be two or three cents each — so it is not cost-effective to use it on every one. Said Mr. Miller, "But when you have very high-value coupons, the exposure can be significant. A single counterfeit — if it gets into a runaway condition — can easily cost a company more than a million dollars. You have to weigh the cost versus the benefits."

Cashier Training/System Makeover

Quote from article: All a cashier just has to do is take a look at it. If they know what they are looking for...
.
I have found that many cashiers can barely handle the routine everyday type of coupons, and have even been told they get no training regarding coupons. There sure would need to be a huge change in preparing cashiers to spot fake coupons.

Reading that Retail Wire article was really interesting and gave me lots of perspective. It's sometimes hard to buy enough newspapers (small towns run out of newspapers quickly) to get enough coupons for what you need, so buying more newspapers really isn't the answer. Plus there are only so many supplements made available to the nsp publisher, so sometimes only home delivery receives them.

Someone in that article pointed out that the whole system needs a makeover, saying "The whole couponing system is broken. Having to carry around tiny shreds of paper to purchase an item which has an artificially jacked-up price makes no sense. Let's concentrate instead on creating digital brand relationships that allow customers to announce their affinity to a certain product, then reward them with a slightly lower price." I'm interested to see how that happens.

Clarification

I wasn't saying that you would ruin it, just that these couponers would. The store management gave me some sort of story about how a lady used a huge stack of FREE coupons and they were fake and that's why the new rule. In my mind that just means you didn't train your cashiers well enough to know what to do when presented with that stack.

Ruining it for others....

My walmart had a similar problem. Someone came in with a stack of BOGO coupons and used them on the wrong size. The store was out the money, it was not paid. So now the cashiers go over everything. They still are very coupon friendly there, but it only takes one thief who takes advantage on a busy day.