|Stop the Presses! Mere gives a thumbs up to a Store Brand Product
||[Dec. 15th, 2006|09:59 am]
|||||Anonymous 4 Yuletide||]|
Yeah, even I'm surprised. But so far, the Simply Enjoy Brand from Ahold (Giant here in the Mid-Atlantic; Stop & Shop in the Northeast; Number-Fudging, P&L Juggling Lying Dutch Behemoth for those of you who read the business section) is actually pretty okay.
Look, it's a store brand...and my experience so far has been limited to the Bumbleberry Pies in the frozen dessert section (I can't make a little pastry that looks and tastes this good at this price. It actually comes out looking like it does on the package, which rarely happens in the frozen section. And soooo convenient to keep a few in the freezer) and the pasta sauces (thinner than you may be used to, but that's what happens when you don't load up a sauce with additional thickeners.) But generally speaking, if they didn't F that up, odds are in their favor for getting the other products right. And the ingredient labels are very clean -- using only the stuff that you'd expect to see, unless you've been worn down into thinking that food actually requires multisyllabic words and the phrase "FD&C".
For those of you who are thinking -- oh, c'mon, there's nothing wrong with store brands, they're the same product produced by the name brand guys, just cheaper....oh, you poor misguided schmoo. My mom told me that too. And, truthfully, back when I was a kid, y'know, pre-fax, pre-calculator, pre-VCR, just post-pterodactyl, that was sort of true. Store brand canned pineapple, say, was a way for the folks at Dole to use up excess factory capacity. But Dole, and others, also found it was a good way of using up raw materials that didn't quite meet the standards of the Dole Brand. And grocery stores, for whom it's all about price (I won't bore you with my years of beating myself senseless trying to convince grocery execs that people will pay more for quality) thought that was just fine.
As store brands became popular...Dole started to order second tier ingredients purposely in order to fulfill the private label orders, who thought that was fine, because after all, they wanted to be able to offer the product cheaper than Dole, PLUS make more money per can than they did on Dole. If you're struggling with the math, just remember that the equation ends with the consumers getting screwed by a snow job again.
Then....someone smelled money and suddenly the private label industry was born. Production plants made specifically to make private label products. They don't make a brand themselves. Now, some of these folks have integrity, a grasp of the concept of quality -- which is how you get Primo Taglio cold cuts at Safeway...but others....
I had a meeting with a colleague from the private label association. He wanted to work with us (the grocery industry association) to develop a set of standards that private label manufacturers had to meet. Teach the grocery industry what it needed to look for in a private label manufacturer and how to "keep an eye" on the ones they chose. Poor man was basically ratting out members of his own association -- concerned that grocery stores were so concerned with price, price, price (which is how you get the Meat Department at Safeway) and didn't seem to care about quality or reputation.
I've had side by side comparisons -- and yes, sometimes the store brand is better than the brand name. Not often. And in any given store it varies widely from department to department. My personal motto "Life is too short to eat bad food" makes me approach store brands with trepidation. Luckily, I'm a sucker for good packaging (yeah, I WILL buy something for the packaging. I'm nothing if not inconsistent) and the Simply Enjoy has just lovely graphics.