Coupons

But somewhere down the line, someone has to make up for the check-out person's bit of goodwill. Better 'N' Eggs spokesperson Spryos told me where my coupon was headed after I'd cashed it in: To a "clearinghouse" in Del Rio, Texas. I've never been to Texas, but I have been to Mexico, which I learned was really the destination of my coupon. After the retail stores (eg, my New York grocery store) sends the coupons to Del Rio, Texas, the coupons are loaded into trucks and driven a half hour to a plant in Mexico, a "clearinghouse," where workers sort the coupons by manufacturer.

95% of all coupons in the US are sent to clearinghouses in Mexico via places like Texas and California. This Texas/Mexico business is called a "maquiladora" operation, translated to "twin plant," translated to cheap labor costs, and because US manufactures don't have to pay import and export fees. Coupons aren't mailed directly to Mexico because of the perceived unreliability of the Mexican postal system.

At the clearinghouses in Mexico, the coupons are sorted by manufacture brand, either by machine or by hand. "By hand?" I asked, thinking of the millions of coupons and the possibility of a lot of paper cuts. I was speaking with Ann Bertiglia, who is spokesperson for the Association of Coupon Processors, an industry group that oversees and promotes coupon use.

"Sorting coupons by hand isn't as difficult as it sounds," she said. "They just spot the logo of the manufacturer. I bet you could do it-Ralston Purina, how would you identify their coupon?"

"The little red...checkered box?"

"Yes!" said Ann, obviously pleased. (Well, if this publishing thing doesn't work out...)

Read on...