Off-Brand Brands

When you go to the grocer, you’re likely to see at least two options for whatever product you buy.  One option — and often more than one — will always be a major, national brand that is a familiar name that you see advertised on national TV.  The other option will be the off-brand product.  That’s the product that doesn’t advertise on TV and is typically sold for a significantly cheaper price than the major national brand.

I often buy the off-brand alternatives.  Why not?  If I’m buying non-dairy coffee creamer, it really doesn’t make any difference to me whether I’m getting whatever mixture is put together by the national brand or the combination developed by the alternative.  In my experience, the off-brand is often just as good as the brand, and I feel I’ve prudently  saved a few bucks on my grocery bill.

Plus, I like checking out the names of the off-brand product producers.

Typically, the off-brand alternatives are regional in scope and are affiliated with grocery store chains.  You’ll see different off-brand names and options in Columbus than you would in, say, Boise, Idaho.  And often the names are clever plays on words that also are a bit defensive in nature, and geared toward convincing you that the products are really just as good as the national brands — or at least reasonably close.

For example, in Maine off-brand options have names like Heluva Good (as in Heluva Good cheddar cheese), Shur Fine, and Best Yet.  Heluva Good suggests that it will exceed normal off-brand consumer taste and quality expectations.  Shur Fine doesn’t make quite so bold a promise, but still conveys that it will provide ultimate user satisfaction.  But Best Yet is a bit curious.  It’s not addressing consumer reactions, it’s comparing the current product to predecessors.  It suggests that the producer is still tinkering with the formula, experimenting, and coming up with marginal improvements over last year’s offering.  Best Yet is hedging, rather than staking out a clear position.

I’ve been using the Best Yet non-dairy coffee creamer, and it’s perfectly fine.  Now that I think of it, Perfectly Fine would be a heluva good brand for an off-brand product, too.

 

The Vestiges Of Prohibition

I thought Prohibition — America’s doomed effort to legislate morality and propriety by banning the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages through a constitutional amendment that gave rise to bootleggers, speakeasies, and rumrunners — ended back in the ’30s.  And it did . . . in most places.  But weird vestiges of Prohibition-era laws still can be found even now, more than 80 years later.

we-want-beerTake Colorado, for example.  Thanks to a law that traces its roots back to Prohibition, grocery stores in that state haven’t been able to sell full-strength beer.  If you walk into a store of the grocery chain of your choice in Denver, for example, you can buy 3.2 beer — and that’s it.  If you want to buy full-strength beer, you’ve got to go to a state liquor store. It’s kind of weird to think that such a limitation on beer sales would exist in Colorado of all places, because it has been one of the leaders in the movement to legalize the sale and consumption of recreational marijuana.  But Prohibition-era laws die hard.

Grocery stores apparently put up with the limitation because, until 2008, liquor sales of any kind on Sunday were banned in Colorado, except for the 3.2 beer you could buy in grocery stores.  That restriction no doubt gave grocery stores a boost in Sunday sales to thirsty drinkers who couldn’t buy anything else.  When the blue law ended, however, grocers started advocating for change, the legislature finally acted, and now the 3.2 beer limitation will be ending.  Effective January 1, 2019, you can walk into a grocery store in Colorado and buy a six-pack of Sam Adams seasonal — just like you can in Columbus and pretty much everywhere else in the United States.

For those of us of a certain age, the notion of drinking 3.2 beer brings back memories of our adolescence, when people of a certain age in Ohio (and elsewhere) were permitted to drink 3.2 beer and nothing else.  It was a rite of passage.  I don’t remember much about the quality of 3.2 beer, but I do remember the quantity, because you had a drink a lot of it to attain the desired effect.  The 3.2 beer laws in Ohio ended decades ago, however.

Welcome to the modern world, Colorado!  And down with the Volstead Act!

Walking To The Grocer’s

When Kish and I lived in Washington, D.C. years ago, we walked to the Safeway on Capitol Hill and, later, the Safeway in the Watergate in Foggy Bottom.  Like many other D.C. residents, we had a stand-up metal cart that, when folded out, could comfortably fit two full paper bags of goods, and that was how we carted our food back home.

When we moved to the suburbs of Columbus we kept that cart for a while but never used it, and finally we gave it away to the Salvation Army.  The suburbs are made for cars, not carts, and as the boys grew up, and showed the appetites that boys always have, we needed far more than two bags of groceries, anyway.

Now that we’re back to just the two of us, the idea of walking to the grocer’s, just as we did in our pre-kid days, is appealing — and I wish we still had that cart.  We’ve got a Giant Eagle in one direction and a Kroger in another; both are about 10 blocks away.  Yesterday afternoon I walked to the Kroger to shop.  It reminded me of some of the benefits of walking to the grocer’s.

For one thing, it encourages discipline.  You need to carry home everything you buy using your own muscle power, not horsepower.  This tends to encourage making thoughtful lists and avoiding impulse purchases.  At several points yesterday I weighed whether to buy something, took a look into my basket, and voted no because it probably would put me over the two-bag carrying limit.  You also tend to avoid the heavy and ungainly giant-size options.  The inevitable result is less food around the house at any given point in time . . . and less food going bad.  And, of course, you also get the exercise of walking to the store in the first place, and then the combination walking-carrying exercise on the way back.

My walk to the grocer’s yesterday felt good, and it brought back some memories, too.

At A Paris Grocery

As usual, we are staying in an apartment during our trip to Paris.  It’s the apartment of the vivacious Josette, where Richard and I stayed several years ago.  It’s a great location, right next to the Luxembourg Gardens, in a neat residential neighborhood.

001One of the true advantages of the apartment rental experience in a place like Paris is the chance to get away from the commercial areas and get out with the Parisians.  Because we’re in an apartment, we need items like orange juice, coffee, milk, wine, and beer.  (Of course, you would never dream of buying bread in a grocery store; you’ve got to go to the bakery for that.)

There are a huge array of other items to try along the tight aisleways, and you can always find bins of fresh fruits and vegetables under the striped green outer awnings.  There are some language challenges — my de minimus French skills can’t distinguish ground coffee from whole bean, for example — but you typically can make do with some careful looking (and, in the case of packaged coffee, giving it a squeeze to see whether it feels ground.)  The proprietors of these neighborhood groceries are unfailingly pleasant and helpful, too.

Shopping at a local grocer in a foreign land is one of the things that makes travel fun.

Spoiled Food, Cold Showers, And Hotel Hunters

The brutal thunderstorm that barreled through Columbus Friday night continues to have an impact.  Although our electricity was restored last night, I learned today that many people still don’t have electricity — and have been told they won’t have power until next Saturday, July 7.  An entire week without electricity, in modern America!

One of the people so affected is UJ.  Being of hardy stock, he plans on toughing it out.  He doesn’t keep much food in his refrigerator and he drank the milk that was there when the lights went out, so he hasn’t had anything spoil.  He’ll eat out, sleep with the windows open, grit his teeth through ice-cold morning showers, and hope that Mother Nature has pity on Columbus and allows for a few unseasonably cool days or some rain this week — so long as there are no storms that make things worse.

Other people don’t have that option.  If they are susceptible to the heat, they can’t take a chance on suffering heat stroke or dehydration in homes that have been heated to uncomfortable levels.  There’s been a run on generators, and I’m betting that there aren’t many available hotel rooms around.  And if you have a pet that you hope to keep cool, you’ll have even fewer hotel options.

Richard and I went to Kroger today to buy a few items, and the store was jammed.  People in our area lost just about everything that is perishable, and ice was at a premium.  When we were at the store the loudspeaker announced that the ice shipment had arrived, and shoppers made a beeline for the loaded pallet between aisles 11 and 12.  We also noticed that, on many of the refrigerated shelves, lots of the product was gone — presumably the result of shoppers who had lost their orange juice and milk and needed to replenish their supply.  Who knows how much food has spoiled because of the extended power outage?

I’m betting that people will be telling stories about the thunderstorm of June 29, 2012 and its aftermath for a long time.

Back To The Days Of Friendly Sam Drucker

The Albertson’s grocery store chain, which does business in the south and west, is eliminating self-checkout lanes in its stores because the stores want “the opportunity to talk to customers more.”  According to the article, other chains are considering following suit.

I’m opposed to getting rid of self-checkout lanes.  They are irritating, of course, with the female voice that constantly tells you to “place the item in the bag” and asks “do you have any coupons?”  But I’m willing to put up with the irritation in order to avoid waiting in line behind someone who has a huge cartload.

I’m curious, however, about what the Albertsons chain thinks cashiers are going to talk to the customers about.  It’s as if they envision a return to the days of Sam Drucker behind the counter at the Hooterville General Store, where a customer and Sam could sit down by the cracker barrel and trade gossip about the crazy doings of the Douglases at their Green Acres farm.  It makes me wonder if anyone in management at Albertsons has actually been through a grocery store check-out lane recently.

I’m not sure what I would do if one of the local Kroger or Giant Eagle cashiers tried to engage me in conversation.  The harried cashiers quickly swiping items typically don’t even make eye contact, much less engage in deep discussions.  And even if the cashiers were riveting conversationalists, I’m confident that the people waiting in line aren’t going to be happy about the cashier and the customer chewing the fact instead of moving as quickly as they can.

Long live self-checkout lanes!