Review of Celebrity Prime Foods
Shortly after buying a new house in Del Mar, I received a cold call from Celebrity Prime Foods, who were selling a shop-at-home food service. Among other benefits, they promised access to U.S. Prime grade beef. This was very tempting, as it's almost impossible for consumers to find anything better than choice. I fancy myself something of a chef and will go to great lengths to get the quality I want. Also, we had used a provisioner in Singapore, and that convenience was attractive.
I set up an appointment for him to come over. He insisted that my wife be there, which meant it had to be on a weekend. The salesman wasted most of our Saturday with a grueling 4-hour hard sell. While the horror stories about the practices of the more usual sources of meats were entertaining, the information could have been fully presented in half an hour. The real story is they come out every six months with frozen food and nonperishables. They provide only a small segment of our food needs, so we'd still have to shop just as often.
The salesman made every effort to obscure the costs and the real values, and was belligerent to any probing questions. He said he used to be a 5th grade teacher, but we couldn't understand his explanation of their discount schedule.
I told him that we liked the concept, but needed to analyze the plan more carefully (which was certainly true). He wouldn't leave unless we signed something; to effect this, he offered to extend the cancel clause for two weeks. Just to get rid of him, I went along with this. Suspiciously, there is no printed address anywhere on the papers I was given. The cancellation address was scrawled illegibly--let's hope I sent it to the right place!
We're still unclear just how the pricing works, but it seems that they have a base price, and offer lifetime discounts when you buy their appliances or insurance or refer people to them. An appliance purchase yields a 13% discount, insurance 5%, and a referral 5%, with a maximum total of 40%. The salesman told me that their profits were so high, they could afford to do this, and still offer a full replacement guarantee.
It was an incredible ordeal to persuade the salesman to identify what the prices were actually for. The first price quoted, $229.03/month, included payments for the freezer they were trying to sell us, which they'll finance at the low, low rate of only 19.9% (N.B.: The salesman originally told us 22% per year--19.9% compounded monthly is 21.8%, so that's probably what he meant). Food is financed at 9.99%. (Of course, you can pay cash and avoid the interest.)
At the bottom of this page is a tabulation of the items included in their offer to us, their weights, and what I feel I can buy similar grades for. (This was intended to cover 2 meals/week for 6 months.) Since they don't list weights for many items, I've guessed or extrapolated from what the salesman told me. My total comes to around $300.00, but you can probably do much better at sales. Note that they don't specify the grade on any particular item--there's no guarantee that any prime beef will be provided.
Of course, the cuts of meat they actually offer are completely inadequate for my needs. He had shown us glossies of a huge variety, but when questioned about it, he said it was just to illustrate different cuts of meat. No whole tenderloins, no crown roast, no breast of veal, no rack of lamb, etc. The selection is fine if you're making lots of hamburgers for your teenage sons, but not for a dinner party.
Their base price for all this was $1000.00. If we bought several of their appliances and siced them on our friends to get their maximum discount of 40%, this would be reduced to only $600.00.
It's really a pretty clever scheme. They promise people convenience and quality. They charge outrageous prices, then offer discounts if the customer makes a large up-front commitment, such as buying their freezer, which locks the customer into years of trying to make back their investment. Customers think they're getting a good deal because the discount is so high, but if they did the math, they'd realize even a 40% discount isn't enough.
Now, it's certainly possible that Celebrity Prime Foods's products are as high quality as they claim. But if that were true, why are they resorting to such high-pressure and deceptive sales practices? And are their products really worth a 100% to 200% premium? I'm certainly not going to make the $3000.00 (food + freezer) gamble to find out. As it is, we wasted about $1000 of our time on this; I hope this account will save others from making the same mistake.
Addendum: 19 Feb 97
Upon learning of this review, a representitive from Celebrity Prime Foods called me. At that time, I made it clear that I was interested in any factual errors that he could identify, as all I have to go on is what the salesman told me. He considered sending me a sample of their meat, but when I refused to agree not to review it, he decided not to. Interestingly, he said I seemed to understand their discount schedule better than most of his salesmen.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from Celebrity Prime Foods's lawyers threating me with a nuisance lawsuit, in an attempt to intimidate me into retracting what is, to the best of my knowledge, a completely accurate review. More to the point, they insisted I publish their edited version--now a blatant advertisement containing several false statements--as my own. I have, naturally, declined their revisions.
On the positive side, they returned my deposit check without any hassle at all.
Addendum: 17 Mar 97Celebrity Prime Foods has filed a frivolous lawsuit against me. Of course, since everything in this article is true to the best of my knowledge--and they have been given every opportunity to correct any factual errors--Celebrity Prime Foods has little chance of prevailing. Certainly, my readers will decide for themselves if they want to deal with a company that tries to suppress an honest account of their sales practices.
Addendum: 31 May 97I have been informed that Celebrity Prime Foods is telling prospective clients that there is a negative review on the Internet (meaning mine) but that they have filed suit and prevailed. Naturally, we're a long way from finishing this case, and I don't think they have any chance of winning on merits. If they tell you this, and you'd like to check, the court clerk's phone is 1-619-685-6018, case number 708747 VDF.
Addendum: 29 Oct 97
Celebrity Prime Foods has now tried twice to get an injunction that would prevent me from publishing this review. Both attempts have, naturally, failed, and the second time the judge stated that my review was "fair comment." That is, unactionable -- Celebrity Prime Foods has no chance of winning. Yet Celebrity Prime Foods not only continues their attack on me, but has since expanded it to include my wife and a business partner, neither of whom have anything to do with this.
They must be pretty desperate to resort to such a cowardly abuse of process. First, they tried to make it too expensive for me to continue publication, and now that that has failed, they're attacking innocent people, I suspect to put pressure on me to remove this review. Their lawyer, Steve Sayler of Hillyer and Irwin, has told me that to recoup my losses in this frivolous case, I would have to file suit for malicious prosecution after this one is over. Sayler smugly informed me that malicious prosecution actions almost never succeed---so they can continue to attack me and my friends with impunity.
The truth about their prices.
The main order forms--menu and alternate menu--are carbonless multipage forms. However, the pages in an order form are printed differently. The pages retained by Celebrity Prime Foods use 8-digit serial numbers for each item. The page given to the client prints only 4 of the 8 digits. Certainly, it costs more to print pages differently--why would they do that? I'm told that all the pages used to be the same, but they changed that so the client couldn't see the full serial number. Here's why.
The secret is to take the last 4 digits of the FULL serial number, and multiply by some constant (e.g., $0.20) to get the price that Celebrity Prime Foods charges for the individual item. Add it all up, tack on a few hundred dollars for good measure, and that's the total before discounts. We find that they charge $8.00/pound for hamburger. They charge $2.00/can for tuna fish (going rate is $1.00/can). What is most interesting about this is that I specifically asked the salesman about the price of individual items. He told me that he didn't know what individual items cost (a ludicrous statement, because we could pick and choose individual items, then he would give us a total). In a conspiratorial tone, he told me that he had once figured out the price of tuna fish, and it was $0.30/can. But it's pretty obvious that he was charging us $2.00/can for tuna, and that he knew how much he was really charging us.
This shows that they charge approximately a 300% markup on meat and a 100% markup on other items, much higher than I had thought. I've inserted here a new table of the items on our list. The old one is still here for historical reference. The numbers are a bit confusing--items are often indivisible, so 10 cans of tuna is one item, but 2 olive oils is 2 items.
Thanks to everyone who sent me accounts of their experiences with Celebrity Prime Foods. I can be reached at email@example.com
Copyright 1996 Ed Sznyter
Many people have asked about the relationship between Celebrity Prime Foods and Colorado Prime Foods. I was told by someone who was interviewing with Colorado Prime Foods that the president of Celebrity used to work for Colorado, but left to start Celebrity and beat them to California.
I don't know much about Colorado, but their spiel and methods seem almost identical. A red flag is that both companies use "Iolon" film, which no one else seems to be able to identify (and CPF refuses to identify). They both use a "point" system to disguise the real price of items on the order form (see Colorado Prime food former employees).
For an interesting review of Colorado Prime Foods, check out this entry on the ConsumerInformation and Protection Webring. Another review is Colorado Prime Warning
You won't find much information about Celebrity Prime Foods elsewhere on the net--can't imagine why. Here's one interesting message.The victim suspects that Celebrity Prime Foods and Home Acceptance Corporation (the finance company) are in collusion. The truth is, they're both owned by Mark T. Gombar. I've heard many accounts where someone realizes that they've been had, tries to stop paying, and Home Acceptance Corporation sues them, telling the customer that they'll have to resolve any problems with CPF. You'll see this charade maintained in the above-linked response from CPF, where they claim they "worked with the finance company." I'm not sure why this is listed under "success stories;" doesn't sounds like the victim had much success.
See The Complaint Station for Celebrity Prime Foods Celebrity Prime Foods The "commercial freezer" is identified as "frigidaire, bottom of the line manual defrost, and sells for between $350.00 and 450.00."
As of 1 Nov 2001. To get a certified copy of their FBN, send a check for $1.15 to Gary L. Granville, Orange County Clerk-Recorder, P.O. Box 238, Santa Ana, CA 92702. Ask for the record for FBN 19976741183. (see http://www.oc.ca.gov/recorder/fictbsn.htm)