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Thursday focus: Shopping life

Supermarkets across the country cleared the shelves of more than 2,600 items recalled after salmonella contamination was found in some products made by the Peanut Corp. of America.

But Kroger, the nation’s second-largest food retailer, has gone a big step further than most – harnessing electronic gadgetry and databases of consumer shopping histories to keep tainted goods from being sold or consumed.

As in past recalls, the first step was removing flagged items from shelves, leaving behind tags in both English and Spanish informing customers the products had been pulled because of the salmonella threat, said Rebecca King, a Kroger spokeswoman.

The chain then made sure that mis-shelved products picked up elsewhere in the store couldn’t be scanned by cashiers or at self-checkout counters.

Kroger came up with the idea of using the chain’s technology in two more ways: Shoppers holding the Kroger Plus card who had previously purchased any of the recalled items would receive a personalized message on their cash register receipt tape telling them to dispose of those products. The warning is repeated on their next visit.

The customer also receives an interactive voice response call from an automatic dialing system, informing them to dispose of items they purchased because of the salmonella list, King said.

Nautilus Inc. lost $41.2 million in the three months ending Dec. 31, bringing to nearly $150 million the Vancouver, Wash.-based fitness company’s losses in the past 18 months.

And as CEO Edward Bramson continues to cut costs in light of falling sales, the company’s struggles may have implications for its local future.

“Reducing some of the onerous lease expense we have here at our world headquarters” will be a top priority in 2009, Bramson said in a recent conference call with investors. Nautilus employs about 380 at its headquarters in Vancouver.

The company behind the StairMaster and Bowflex brands seeks to cut costs, bolster flagging sales and cut debt. Direct sales fell 25.4 percent, to $185.7 million, for the year, with the drop deepening each quarter of 2008. January and February figures suggest that direct sales have hit bottom, and will not continue to decline, Bramson said.