Stay Tuned/More Dubious Grocery Discoveries

From Eccentric Flower

 



stay tuned
 



More Dubious Grocery Discoveries
25 January 1998


I've taken to scribbling random observations gleaned during my trips to the grocery store on a little pad of paper I carry with me. I think this is probably a bad sign, but I'm not sure I can say why.

At any rate, herewith a brief look at some of the weirdnesses of a trip a few weeks ago. This is the same trip which eventually led to last week's musings on the New England Confectionery Company, as I was pondering the idea of regional brands which manage barely to keep themselves alive, such as Moxie and Marshmallow Fluff, and ones which actually manage to do well for themselves, such as King Arthur flour, which doesn't appear in grocery stores outside New England, but does a steady mail-order business because it is both an honest product ("Never Bleached - Never Bromated") and because it makes good bread, being harder than most all-purpose flours.

But I digress.


A trip to the cereal aisle is always good fodder for commentary. In the old incarnation of these musings, I could count on two or three items a month about cereal, and that was just from the newspaper ads. (I have a backlog of those piling up, by the by; who knows what horrors lurk within?)

The latest on that front is that General Mills has become an "Official U.S. Olympic Team Sponsor" and is promoting it to high heaven. All three types of Wheaties (did you know there were three types of Wheaties? You gotta watch that line extension every second, or it'll creep up on you) have pictures of Olympic lads and lassies, for example, and they've introduced a new brand for the occasion: USA Olympic Crunch. This is your standard extruded-grain-plus-extruded-marshmallow cereal (Lucky Charms is the canonical example), which General Mills, by the by, makes more of than any other cereal manufacturer.

The marshmallow shapes are so vague this time around that they feel it is necessary to explain them on the front of the box. Oh, so that purple and yellow pointy blob is a torch, eh? And that white mass? A ski slope. Of course. Incidentally, being a non-sports type, I was wondering why the Olympics were being promoted in January ... but given the ski slope, it just now occurs to me that they must be promoting the winter Olympics ... which will be in Japan somewhere, right? All I remember hearing are comments about how often the torch has gone out on the way (at least six times, apparently).

Before moving on, I offer the readers a conundrum. Anyone who can give me the details behind the "Big G Box Top$ for Education" program (there is utterly no legalese, not even an address to contact about the program, on any of the boxes I've checked) will receive my undying thanks. I am in the process of doing the legwork myself ... so don't bother calling General Mills or anything like that, I'm already on the case ... if you happen to know the scoop already for some bizarre reason, though, tell me.


Soda advertising makes me feel old. First there were those clever but very targeted Mountain Dew ads (I'm torn as to whether I like the James Bond spoof or the Jackie Chan one best), and all those damned "Obey Your Thirst" ads which don't work nearly as well, and the "Generation Next" Pepsi ads, for which I am clearly not the target audience. (I'm only thirty and I'm obviously a couple of Generations Previous. But the generations are getting closer together these days.)

Even so, I'd be willing to live with the ads if they'd just stop taking this Ray Gun approach to the packaging. The Cherry Coke can is a miserable piece of work. It's designed to appeal to the people who like anti-design, apparently ... but here's the rub: the Junior Slacker League that Cherry Coke is pitched to could care less what the can looks like.

On the other hand, one cannot help but think that a great deal of the appeal of Surge, "the fully loaded citrus soda" - besides the excess caffeination that phrase obliquely refers to - is the color and packaging. Surge is dark green. It's not even a patently radioactive day-glo green like Mountain Dew. It's not a light innocuous green like some lime-flavored sodas are. It's a dark, swampy spinachy green. And the package - green with an orange burst across it - is downright scary.

No one but a kid would drink this. And even then maybe not more than once.


Sometimes you see something that looks like a good idea, but doesn't hold up to inspection. Colgate Total is a new toothpaste you may have seen advertised. It claims to be the first toothpaste which fights both cavities and gingivitis. Which is all good and well, except that their method of fighting gingivitis is to put a topical antibacterial - triclosan, the same one used in that orange anti-bacterial liquid hand soap several companies make - into the toothpaste. Now, this is not the best compound in the world to ingest. I don't imagine it would kill you. It would probably give you some stomach upheavals. Nonetheless, the package warns you not to swallow any if you can avoid it, and the toothpase is "not recommended for use by children under 6," who tend to eat the stuff. One wonders how many people put the toothpaste back on the shelf after reading the label. Probably not many.


Sometimes a change of packaging makes all the difference in the world. I'm not a potato-chip eater, and even I was hypnotically drawn to the packages for Lay's "Deli Style" potato chips. Why? Because they're not packaged in the slippery, shiny, Mylar-like plastic bags. They're in some sort of paper bags, probably with a plastic coating on the inner side of the paper (as grease stains soaking through a bag do not encourage chip purchases).

And sometimes the change of packaging is all the difference. Witness the Great Cool Whip Mystery.

Cool Whip comes in three styles: plain ol' Cool Whip, Cool Whip Lite, and Cool Whip Free. Of the latter two, I believe the first is billed as being low-calorie and the second is described as low-fat. As you'll see, the matter is far from clear.

Here are the stats. You figure it out.

Cool Whip ingredients, in order: Water, corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil (hereafter HVO), high-fructose corn syrup, sodium caseinate, flavors (less than one percent of content), and miscellaneous preservatives and such.

Cool Whip Lite: Water, skim milk, corn syrup, h.f. corn syrup, HVO, flavors (again, we're down to less than one percent now), sodium caseinate, and the miscellany.

Cool Whip Free: Water, corn syrup, HVO, h.f. corn syrup, flavors (less than two percent), sodium caseinate, food starch, and the miscellany.

In a nine gram serving:

Cool Whip:
25 Calories - 15 of them from fat
2 grams carbohydrate - 1g from sugar
1.5g fat

Cool Whip Lite:
15 Cal. - 0 from fat
2g carb. - 1g from sugar
1g fat

Cool Whip Free:
20 Cal. - 10 from fat
3g carb. - 1g from sugar
0g fat

Isn't this amazing? Now, the Free version gets ten calories from fat, but has zero grams of fat per serving, which is already impressive. Notice also that it is fat free, but has more calories than Lite. Notice also that all of them deliver approximately the same sugar punch, which makes sense, since all three of these products are a tub of sugar solution whipped with just enough of a fat-starch mixture to enable it to hold air. Period.

Still, you have to admire the manufacturers for pulling this much variation out of the Nutrition Facts with a very short ingredient list and only a limited amount of tweaking available to them. Some food chemist got a raise for this. Ain't life grand?



Backstory

[February 2007:] It becomes necessary to explain that Ray Gun was a rock magazine which (and here I cannot improve on Wikipedia's statement) "created new boundaries on the cutting edge of magazine publishing by abandoning the usual conventions of headlines, columns, and even page numbers. The result was a chaotic, abstract style, not always readable, but usually vivid in appearance. This self-consciously hip, unconventional approach soon emerged on album covers, concert posters, signaling the birth of a bona fide movement. It folded in 2000 under a cloud of financial mismanagement and tax evasion."

Originally a sentence in the Cool Whip portion of this article read "Notice also that [Cool Whip Free] is fat free, but has twice the calories per serving than the others." This is, of course, dead wrong. Either I was in outer space when I wrote it (this is my guess, for normally I'd have said "as" and not "than"), or I copied down some of the numbers incorrectly from my scrawled notes. By the time it was called to my attention, I had discarded the scrawled notes, so I don't know. Anyway, the point was that some of what you lose in fat you necessarily gain in sugar, the product being basically sugar and air.

I have not bothered to do a fresh check on either Cool Whip or Wheaties line extension at this time.


and now back to our program


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