A&P Signs Starbucks; But First, It Sues YouTube Rappers

The good news is that the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. says it will open an undisclosed number of Starbucks stores within its shrinking supermarket chain. The weird news is that the retailer also confirms reports that it's wading into the YouTube litigation frenzy, suing two former associates for $1 million for a gangsta-rap parody that shows them apparently peeing on A&P's lettuce.

The amateur rappers--two New Jersey brothers who are college students--reportedly got the idea for making their parody, "Produce Paradise," as an assignment for a class and shot it at work. The four-minute-plus video is already a hit on YouTube, with nearly 60,000 views since its release on Aug. 6. In addition to the apparent urinating, the duo--who claim not to "give a shitake"--also dance with bananas emerging from their pants, kiss scallions, and lick sprouts and zucchini. The oft-repeated chorus advises shoppers to stay away from the cut fruit ("that s-t is nasty.")

"We are appalled that anyone would glorify the disgusting behavior by our former associates," A&P President and CEO Eric Claus says in a statement. "I find it disturbing that the focus of this story has not been on food safety. The video shows them licking, gesturing, and doing absolutely deplorable things with produce. This is in total contrast to the food safety standards that we uphold as a company. Our actions are reflective of the importance that we place on the integrity of the product we sell to our customers."

The kids in question, who identify themselves as The Fresh Beets, have been fired, and say A&P canned them with a pink slip that states, "Seen in YouTube video making obscene gestures with product sold @ store level. Video is still under investigation." And they are trying to drum up support to help cover their legal fees. "We were given word that the A&P is suing us for $1 million," the duo write on their YouTube blog. "That's going to be hard for two broke college kids from a family of nine to pay off."

As gross as the video is, A&P's legal move is an interesting one, given that video pranks are increasingly widespread. Videos of teens doing stupid stuff at Wal-Mart have become so popular that it's practically its own YouTube genre, for example. And doubtless, many think the Montvale, N.J.-based A&P should simply ignore the video, especially since it's very difficult to tell what grocery store is being filmed. So far, the Fresh Beets claim to have received more than 600 messages of support, all vowing to abandon A&P for being so uptight.

"Your video is awesome," writes one. "I wrote corporate a nastygram telling them that I'm 42 years old, have a degree in business administration, and that I've never seen such amateur PR and stupidity as what they are trying to do to you guys. The joke's on them. They will never be successful with their suit and in the meantime they will lose millions of dollars in business. I told them they should hire you guys back for their PR department since you clearly were more creative and intelligent than anyone they are currently employing."

Actually, A&P is already losing millions. In its most recent quarterly results, the company lost $43 million on flat sales of $2 billion. Although it acquired Pathmark earlier this year, it has announced plans to abandon its Midwest and Southern markets entirely, ceasing operations of its Farmer Jack chain in the Midwest, and pursuing the sale of its Sav-A-Center division, based in New Orleans. Instead, it hopes to strengthen its core brands--A&P, Waldbaum's, The Food Emporium, Super Foodmart, Super Fresh, and Food Basics stores--in the Northeast.

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