Mint sees golden opportunity in Safeway partnership

The U.S. Mint announced Thursday that it has teamed up with national supermarket chain Safeway Inc. to promote the use of the Golden Dollar coin, amid speculation that the coin has not caught on with consumers. Safeway plans to circulate 1.5 million Golden Dollars to customers in its 1,500 stores across the country. Each Safeway cash register will feature Golden Dollar signs encouraging people to use the coin.

The Golden Dollar, launched in January 2000, bears the likeness of Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clark explore the American West. Although 700 million coins are in circulation, people are hoarding them as keepsakes, and consumers are having a tough time finding them. John Mitchell, deputy director of the Mint, dismisses any talk of the coin's failure. "We don't think the coin is having trouble; we think it has been very successful so far. Last year, during the launch, we were focused on gaining acceptance of the coin. This year we are focused on circulation, and getting them in cash registers," said Mitchell. "We are making good progress." More than 500 businesses across the country are using the Golden Dollar in a total of 225,000 locations, which Mitchell called a "good start to the program." Everything about the Sacagawea coin, from its design to the Mint's market strategy, is based on lessons learned from the Susan B. Anthony coin, according to Mint officials. That coin, introduced in 1979, didn't catch on with consumers in part because it too closely resembled the quarter. The Sacagawea coin is gold-colored and has a smooth edge, making it easily distinguishable from other coins by touch alone. Since 1979, the Mint has produced only 920 million of the Susan B. Anthony coins, while approximately 1.2 billion Sacagawea coins have already been minted, said Mitchell. Last year, the Mint joined forces with private firms, including Wal-Mart, General Mills and Allfirst Bank, to distribute the coin and get consumers acquainted with it. The agency also launched a six-month nationwide advertising campaign featuring George Washington as spokesman for the coin to build awareness. According to Mitchell, the media blitz worked: agency polls showed the coin has a 90 percent recognition rate among consumers. Mitchell said the Mint continues to target several sectors, including banking, entertainment and government, to promote the Sacagawea coin and encourage consumers to become more accustomed to using it. The agency met with Defense Department officials Monday to brainstorm on opportunities for circulating the coin in Defense agencies, and Mitchell said the Mint has also worked with the General Services Administration and other departments on incorporating the coin in agency cafeterias and vending machines. According to the Mint, the Golden Dollar generated more than $1 billion in revenues during fiscal 2000.

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