Catalina Marketing Corp., which brought coupon-issuing machines to grocery registers, will test delivery of coupons via the Internet and commercial online services for one year starting in January.
Consumers will print out the coupons on their home printers and bring them in for redemption.
There will be a one-time registration requirement for households to prevent multiple redemptions.
Safeway, Lucky's, Food 4 Less, Ralph's, Smith's, Raley's and Hughes stores will participate, but Catalina has yet to sign up any grocery marketers or an online provider, essential components to the system.
"This is an economical way for manufacturers to get experience on the Internet and a way for them to understand the new media," said David Rochen, VP-Catalina Marketing Online, a new unit formed to overseethe interactive venture.
Mr. Rochen said the cost to manufacturers will be less than the approximate $7 cost per thousand of standard free standing insert coupons.
Grocers are taking part as an added value.
Catalina, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., has coupon machines in 9,000 U.S. stores and works with 130 consumer goods companies, including Campbell Soup Co., Kraft Foods and RJR Nabisco, reaching 120 million shoppers a week.
A spokesman for Campbell, which currently has a Web site for its Godiva division (http://www.godiva.com), questioned the Catalina venture's reach.
"How many consumers will have access and what is their makeup?" he asked.
"Some people think the online services will have broad reach like FSIs, but the biggest aspect they face right now is scale. If it's only 10,000 people-but the right 10,000-it's a great thing."
There is also concern about security.
"I think it will be an excellent sales, mer- chandising and information tool but the controls are going to have to be tight," said Chris Hoyt, president of consultantancy Hoyt & Co., , Conn. "It could be subject to some abuse."
Others speculated on possibilities such as tying the service in with online grocery shopping.
Also launching in January is a similar service from New York-based Coupons Online. The company will distribute online coupons-including full-screen graphical ads-from package goods, fast-food and travel companies on a national basis via the Internet (http://www.CouponsOnline.com) and commercial online services.
Coupons Online plans a graduated scale of charges from $3 per to $15 per thousand.
A December multimillion-dollar ad campaign is planned, said President Craig Barnett. No agency has been selected.