Stockholders of Quaker Oats Co. are getting an unusual dividend this month.

Stapled into copies of the company's annual meeting report, which is being mailed out to Quaker's approximately 31,000 shareholders, are 20-cents-off coupons good for Quaker Oats cereal. It's believed to be the first time a major corporation has distributed cents-off grocery coupons in this fashion.

"We thought it would be a nice way to help promote" Quaker Oats, said Kathy Rand, manager of divisional public relations at the firm's Chicago headquarters. "Reaction from shareholders has been very positive."

There are other reasons for giving away oats coupons at this time, Rand said: "The season and the weather."

The coupons resemble those printed in newspapers and magazines or sent consumers by mail, except they have the words "Shareholder Coupon" printed across the top. They are redeemable in the usual way, by handling them in a store's checkout counter, when purchasing either Quaker Quick or Old Fashioned Oats.

Distribution of the coupons coincides with new national television commercials for Quaker Oats stressing nutrition and price. It's the first time in about 10 years the company has advertised its oldest product line on TV. Until now, Quaker has spent the bulk of its marketing funds to promote its newer brands, such as Quaker instant oats, Celeste frozen pizza, ready-to-eat cereals (Cap'n Crunch, Life, Corn Bran) and pet foods (Ken-L Ration, Puss'n Boots).

The stockholder report in which the coupons appear includes highlights of Quaker's annual meeting, which was held in Chicago Nov. 14, and results of the company's fiscal first quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

Quaker's largesse to its stockholders is nothing new. The company also has a program of including cents-off coupons with the dividend checks mailed out in April and October, Rand said. The coupons are for a different product each time, usually "something new in national distribution or appropriate to the season," she said.

Coupons with October's dividend checks were good for a free dessert at two of the company's restaurant chains, Magic Pan and Proud Popover, Rand said.

In addition to its food products and restaurants, Quaker owns Fisher-Price Toys, the Herrschners mail-order firm and divisions that market needlecraft goods and chemicals.