The Fresh Grocer’s celebration of Black History Month may have backfired.

During the month of February, The Fresh Grocer printed the words “February is Black History Month” across the top of the first page of their weekly ads. Each ad displayed a picture of that week’s major deal underneath the message. Two of these deals were advertisements for family chicken packs.

These ads caught the attention of some students who thought it drew upon the stereotype of blacks’ consumption of chicken. The Fresh Grocer’s corporate office has since apologized for the placement of the text.

Director of Marketing Carly Spross for the Fresh Grocer’s corporate office offered an apology.

“[We] are sincerely apologetic if our celebratory Black History Month message was offensive to anyone. That was certainly not our intention. The month of February, the front page of our weekly circulars featured a graphic celebrating Black History Month,” she said in an email.

Some students posted one of these ads on Facebook when it first came out, which generated online conversation around marketing practices and stereotypes.

Wharton sophomore Kini Hughes first saw the ad on a friend’s Facebook. Her first reaction was, “You’re not serious?” She decided to repost the ad, repeating the same rhetorical question on her post. Students responded with mixed reactions. Some thought it was funny. Others were offended.

College sophomore Stephanie Jideama, who was one of Hughes’ friends who saw the post, decided to take action. She reposted the ad herself, and then wrote a message to the Fresh Grocer’s Facebook page. In the message she explained that the placement of the words in the Black History Month ad was disrespectful.

The response that Jideama received from the store’s marketing department, which she then shared online, caused others to be more upset. It said, “Our intention is to celebrate Black History Month by acknowledging it on the front page of our ad where the message is most prominent and gains most visibility, which is the same location that we place similar holiday and memorial acknowledgements throughout the year.”

Some students who saw this post found it “disrespectful” because they believed it avoided the issue.

“Personally, I don’t think they took it very seriously because their response had typos in it, [and] I think they were trying to protect their brand more so than admitting their mistake,” Jideama said.

However, when The Daily Pennsylvanian reached out to The Fresh Grocer corporate office, the office responded with an apology.

Spross said that “the advertised sale items near the graphic were not related and also varied each week when sales changed … Next February, our team will definitely take a more in depth look at the placement of the celebratory message so we can ensure that our good intentions are clear to all audiences.”

She also said the company’s social media sites, like Facebook, are handled internally by associates in the marketing department.

Hughes said she has studied marketing, and understands that sometimes “stuff like this happens.” While she does not think the company meant to be offensive, she said, “You just have to be mindful of things like that.”

However, she respects the fact that the director apologized.

UMOJA Political Co-Chair and Wharton sophomore Nikki Hardison agreed that the company’s offenses were likely unintentional, but she did find the ads “culturally insensitive,” noting that many associations between blacks and food could be taken offensively and that these ads “reaffirmed” a stereotype.

“I think it’s these very small things that reinforce cultural and racial stereotypes, and I think that we together as a people have to work to make sure that we won’t reinforce [them],” said Jideama.

Last week’s ad did not feature the Black History Month message.

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