A Ridiculous Special Offer in Cuba

By Jesus Arencibia  (El Toque) 

Chocolate milk “on sale” in a store in Pinar del Rio. Photo: Jesus Arencibia

HAVANA TIMES – “Is this discount for real? 10 cents, really?” I asked an employee at a foreign currency store (TRD) in the Supermarket in the Hermanos Cruz neighborhood, Pinar del Rio. In front of me? One-liter bottles of “Chocolate milk with coffee. Concentrated beverage,” produced by Lacteos Pradera.

The kind, young woman took a look at the labels, which featured the discount from 3.50 CUC (87.50 Cuban pesos) to 3.40 (85.00), because it was “perishable stock to clear”; she looked at me surprised and said: “Yup, it seems to be.” I took out my cellphone and took a picture. I couldn’t hide my great annoyance. It was July 24, 2019, 11:53 AM.

I had almost forgotten that incident when looking for lentils for my son’s puree, I went into the Nueva Imagen shopping mall on San Carlos street, in Holguin city, on the other side of Cuba, on September 4, (12:11 PM). “Special offer” cried out a poster near the entrance, so I picked up my step, like any hopeful customer.

It was the same bottles of Chocolate milk with coffee, with the same, but really quite incredulous 10-cent discount, because it was about to expire, but this time they were being promoted with a great deal of fanfare. I immediately turned around and asked the store’s security guard if this was the real price or whether my eyes were playing tricks on me. The tall, strong-built man with a severe look, stretched his neck out a little, looked and told me that yes, that was the price, but that it should be discounted further soon.

I automatically went looking for my phone and put the extremely special offer in focus.

“Hey, hey, listen, you can’t take photos here,” the employee told me.

“And, why not if it there is a Domestic Trade regulation that authorizes photos?”

“Because you can’t. “Look, if you want to take a photo of an electrical appliance or any other device, you can, but you can’t take a photo of this,” the security guard stressed. Backing himself up, he told me that I could speak to the manager if I wanted to.

Well that’s exactly what I did. The small, stout and blonde manager appeared from a back door at that moment. The ticked-off employee pointed her out to me and that’s where I went. When I asked her, she hesitated for a few moments, but then she finally admitted that yes, we can take photos of any product and its price, but not of the store itself. She came with me to the door and explained this to her subordinate: “Are you sure?” he relied. She stressed: “I know what I’m telling you. I know what I’m telling you.” She confirmed this fact, they both apologized, and he told his boss, under his breath, about the exchange he had had before with this intrusive customer.

I carried on exploring inside the shop and the manager returned a few minutes later to look for me… “Why do you want these photos?” “Well they could be for anything, like, for example, to show my family,” I replied trying to still be polite. “Ahhh,” she said taking a deep breath of relief and went back to her office.

Chocolate milk “on sale” in a store in Holguin.

My economics knowledge doesn’t go further than basic math. I hardly know anything about marketing. But, I get the idea you don’t have to be too dim to realize that reducing a product that has proved to be in low demand in two of the country’s provinces, and just a few days away from its expiry date, is absurdity with a capital “A”.

I was still hounded by many questions in relation to this incident, even in my ignorance: Who decides to produce “Chocolate milk with coffee” in Cuba and then sells it at this price which represents several days of work for any public-sector employee, when basic products, in high demand, are missing from stores a lot of the time, such as chicken, cooking oil, rice?

How does somebody come up with the idea that a simple discount of 2.50 Cuban pesos is going to be attractive to customers and win them over, if this difference isn’t even enough for them to catch public transport on the island?

When the natural expiry date rolls around for the product, how much will the State lose, that is to say, the Cuban people who are the ones working and producing, just because they were stubborn and didn’t make the almost useless product affordable which they purchased with our money?

A side note, hadn’t the issue of photos been “solved” already, even if it were implemented with the restrictions the Ministry of Interior Commerce applied in the end that made no sense? Isn’t the manager’s responsibility to keep their employees up-to-date with these things?

However, beyond being just pissed off, the thing that really mortified me, to the point of losing sleep, was that the person who decided from their air-conditioned office that this product should only be reduced by 10 cents CUC, even if they would have to throw it out after, is a fellow Cuba, is somebody whose family, friends, acquaintances, work colleagues, are also living and suffering in this same Cuba, and who knows, might have been able to drink a glass of chocolate milk with coffee if the liter cost 20 or 30 pesos, or even 40 pesos, which is more or less half the extremely costly sum in the beginning.

Where was it that man became a werewolf?

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