The Liberty Gazette
July 19, 2016Ely Air Lines
by Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely
Linda: Dave Phillips was an engineer at the University of California and like all engineers, he put his pencil to work, calculated all the angles and when he found the best one he began building his plan.
Seventeen years ago the Healthy Choice food company decided on a new strategy to promote their products. They would offer non-cash rewards in exchange for proof of purchase of anything made by Healthy Choice that would come in the form of frequent flyer miles on any one of four airlines of the customer’s choice. Each bar code would be worth 100 miles. Prices varied on their products, but the reward was the same.
Today the company offers 89 different products within the frozen foods, soups, yogurts, and frozen treats categories. They sold many of those products back in 1999, too, when Dave began buying cans of soup and frozen meals, quickly figuring that the lower priced products would net him the best deal.
Then he happened into a grocery outlet store and stumbled upon a Healthy Choice product he hadn’t seen before: pudding - trial-sized chocolate pudding cups. They were priced at 25 cents, and yes, he did exactly what you think he did. He bought the entire display full of tiny chocolate pudding cups.
Approaching the cashier, he realized he’d better think of a response to the question he would surely be asked - why are you buying all these?
Being 1999, the most fitting response was simply, “Y2K.” With the rumors of catastrophe that the year 2000 would have on everyone because computers were not programmed to understand a change in Century, and the hysteria those rumors caused, no one would expect further explanation. Y2K, it turned out, was the perfect alibi as Dave tried to beat the promotion’s deadline, spending his quarters at every grocery outlet within 200 miles, and morphing into The Pudding Guy.
Investing about 100 hours of his time and a little over $3,000, Dave’s garage eventually housed 12,150 25-cent pudding cups, worth 1.2 million air miles - determination, for the win!
Now you might think that 100 hours of work and $3,000 is a pretty sweet deal for several family trips around the world over a ten year period, but wait - there’s more. Remember there was a deadline for this promotion? That deadline meant he had to remove all those labels with bar codes off of every single pudding cup and send them in. Besides, who was going to eat all this pudding?
After several calls to area food banks, someone at the local Salvation Army agreed to accept the donation and offered volunteer labor to remove all those labels. And the little gold nugget here - Dave even claimed the $3,000 donation on his taxes that year. His proof? It was in the pudding.
If you’re inclined to be mad at Dave for his tax write-off, first of all, it was a long time ago, so get over it; but second, you gotta hand it to the guy. He’s the only person who had the tenacity to follow through and claim his prizes to travel the world for free for a decade.