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    Meijer Gas Alerts Worry Industry

    Some say early warnings of price increases could be construed as an anti-trust violation.

    GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- While customers have approved of a program by Meijer Supermarkets that sends text messages to subscribers' cell phones, alerting them that the price of gas at its stations will rise shortly, gasoline industry players are voicing concerns.

    The program -- which was tested last summer in Indiana and rolled out to other regions last month -- sends a text message to consumers when gas prices will rise, but excludes the price, according to a report in the Herald Bulletin.

    "The program allows Meijer customers to keep ahead of rising gas prices," store director Rob Benedum told the newspaper. "We're aware of the rising cost in gas, and that affects everything. This provides Meijer another opportunity to offer additional value and savings to our customers."

    About 6,000 customers companywide have signed up for the free service, Meijer corporate spokeswoman Heather Roland told the Bulletin.

    But some in the industry have expressed uneasiness over the program.

    "When the program was first announced, we were a little bit concerned," said Scott Imus, spokesman for the Indiana Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association. "Anything about future pricing raises some concerns because of anti-trust implications."

    Imus, speaking for the article on behalf of Gas America, a member of the association, told the paper the program might be the trump card Meijer needs to put consumers at ease about its gas service compared to other gasoline dealers with greater market share.

    "I'm not sure it's much more than a clever way to get market share," he said. Other gasoline retailers have stayed away from such a program because it could be construed as price fixing, Imus added.

    "In this case, because (Meijer) doesn't mention a specific dollar amount, I'm not sure if the (Indiana) Attorney General's office would consider that a violation," he noted.

    In addition, Meijer doesn't have the same influence over the market as other large players in the area, he said.

    The attorney general's office has been aware of the program for almost a year, according to Staci Schneider, press secretary for the attorney general.

    "Based on the information received then, this program does not appear to be in violation of Indiana deceptive practices or anti-trust laws," Schneider told the Bulletin.

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