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D.F. Krause
  D.F.'s Column Archive

August 16, 2006

Can the Kit-Kat Survive If No One Hears It Scream?


When five-year-old T.F. Krause accompanies me to the supermarket, I can count on one thing. We will not get from the back of the checkout lane to the cashier without, “Daddy? Can I get chocolate?”


Now, you have to understand what “chocolate” means. Snickers? No. A 100 Grand bar? Please. Twix? Take your cookie crunch and get out of my life!


The classic Hershey bar. That’s it. Fifteen little rectangles of pure milk chocolate pasted together and enclosed in a shiny brown wrapper. That’s chocolate. And it’s always sitting there in the checkout lane, calling young T.F.’s name in a voice that only he can hear. Mrs. Krause would prefer that I limit the chocolate purchases, but the path of least resistance is to fish for the additional 75 cents and try to persuade him to eat the whole thing in the car before we get home. This gets complicated in the summer, when it’s just as likely to end up melted all over the gearshift as in his stomach.


But as long as we go through the checkout lane, the Checkout Chocolate Moment is inevitable.


The folks in Hershey, Pa. are well aware of this. So are the people who make all the other sweet, chocolate, sticky and crunchy treats that shout your name while the person in front of you is loading up the conveyor with laundry detergent and heads of lettuce.


“Who needs to buy that much cantaloupe?” shouts the Bubble Yum. “You deserve a treat for having to wait this long!”


The Kit Kats weigh in.


“Doofus doesn’t remember the PIN for his debit card! This could take awhile! You know what that means.”


You grab four Kit Kats. It works every time.


Or it used to work every time, until a new grocery shopping concept that has the makers of all the talking snacks approaching a panic. Welcome to the U-scan lane. No snacks. No help, either, but who needs help when you’re armed with bar codes, various payment methods and places to go?


Over the past couple years, U-scan lanes have quickly evolved from a curiosity to the preferred method of cashing out for a significant percentage of shoppers – especially those making a limited number of purchases. And in reality, you can’t exactly say the U-scan lanes offer no help. Every time I scan an item, a helpful voice instructs me: “Please place the item in the bag.”


Why thank you! Because I was really thinking of putting it in the trash can until you said that. One time, I set the item on top of the display panel just to see if the voice would know the difference. I don’t think it did, but we’re still in the era of U-scan Beta 1.0. By this time next year, the darn thing will probably grab me by the scruff of my neck and stick the bag over my head if I try that.


Best of all, when you’re going through the U-scan lane, it doesn’t even occur to my son to ask me for chocolate. He can’t hear the little voice calling to him. Out of sight, out of mind. Scan it, bag it and go.


But that’s a problem for the confectioners, mint-makers and nut packagers of America. A huge percentage of their sales occur in the form of impulse buys in checkout lanes, and they’re already reporting an impact.


Besides, if it’s a problem for them, just imagine the trouble the Weekly World News is in for. My interest in Bill Clinton’s dealings with aliens rises exponentially when I’m standing around waiting for some old lady to fit her Depends between the prune juice and the Doan’s Pills. That doesn’t mean I would actually buy the darn thing, but what will happen to WWN and others of its ilk when no one even stops to look?


Well, I’m sure the impulse-buy purveyors will think of something. There are always people waiting in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. On a Saturday, you can wait two hours to ride certain roller coasters. Imagine all the junk food and yellow journalism you could sell there.


I’m grateful that the U-scan lane is helping to reduce the volume of melted chocolate in my car. My son is healthier and I get in less trouble with Mrs. Krause. But I know those little voices will find other opportunities to cry out to young T.F. – and that it’s only a matter of time before they find new ways to make my hands dirty.



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