This Grocer Cleans Up in a Dirty Business

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Have you ever been to the grocery store and started munching on samples or some of the items from your own shopping cart? Well if you have, now would probably be a good time to stop. A recent University of Arizona study examined 85 shopping carts at random and found that 72% of the sample contained fecal matter and more than 50% tested positive for E. coli. In other words, there are likely more bacteria on your shopping cart than there are in the grocery store bathroom.

While most grocery stores now freely dispense antibacterial spray or wipes by companies such as Clorox and Kimberly-Clark, clearly more protection is needed. For grocers that continue to struggle with pricing wars, inflation, and increasing competition from the likes of Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , a cleaner cart and store could prove an important point of differentiation.

While I haven't been encouraged by many of Winn-Dixie's (Nasdaq: WINN  ) moves, its recent exclusive deal with Green Secure Solutions to clean its carts with a patented antibacterial treatment at least twice a year is a step in this direction. This patented treatment is used in hospitals and nursing homes and provides a coating that is expected to protect carts for about four months. The company brings its mobile sanitizing trucks that act as mini car washes to each of Winn-Dixie's stores and individually spray and sanitize each cart to provide the protection. Most grocers hand-wash their carts periodically, but as the recent study shows, this is highly ineffective in preventing bacterial growth.

While this isn't the holy grail that will finally get Winn-Dixie headed in the right direction, I certainly like the initiative by management to tackle an issue that only became larger as a result of this recent study. Unlike upscale grocers such as Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI  ) and The Fresh Market (Nasdaq: TFM  ) that are able to produce higher margins selling premium products, traditional grocers have little with which to differentiate their brands and products from one another. This means that even relatively small measures such as this can make a difference. If nothing else, it has generated some "green" publicity for the struggling grocer and a leg up on its competitors with regards to in-store cleanliness, which is sure to receive more attention because of this pretty gross report.

Andrew Bond owns no shares in the companies listed. Whole Foods Market is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. The Fresh Market is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. Kimberly-Clark and Clorox are Motley Fool Income Investor picks. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Wal-Mart. The Fool owns shares of Wal-Mart. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @Bond0 or on his RSS feed. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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  • Report this Comment On March 24, 2011, at 12:51 PM, mkonen wrote:

    this sounds like an interesting solution to a vexing problem. The sanitizing wipes seem to me more of a pr strategy than an effective one to safeguard the chain's customers. Do you know the name of the product that was used?

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