Posts tagged “groceries”

Wipe out

Many years ago we worked with a client who wanted to help people with “out-of-home personal cleansing.” It was surprising in our interviews to learn that some people worried about the germs left behind on a shopping cart handle. Then last year at a high-end grocery store in Tucson I saw this:
A dispenser for cart wipes. Finally a product that addresses the anxiety, if not removing it.

[Recently some students in our Design Research class at CCA came up with some stats around this same issue that I can’t remember, but they were disturbing/gross – the handle was the dirtiest item we’d touch in a typical week??]

Last week I was in my local Safeway and saw this pathetic effort:
Safeway has shifted the problem definition, allowing you to clean your hands instead of the cart? If the cart is dirty, what do you get out of cleaning your hands before you shop? Maybe a hand wipe on the way out, after you return your cart? But still, if the cart is (seen as) dirty, then clean the cart.

They’ve put it right in the entranceway in a location that is filled with other things that people need to access (drinking fountains, DVD vending machine, bubble gum, hallway to restroom). And really, the whole thing is poorly executed: it’s all about the poster; with little focus on the thing you need to grab – the wrong-sized wipe dispenser and then it’s finished off with the inappropriate, ugly, exposed garbage bin.

Maybe it was a prototype to see how people used it, but I think they’ve created something so pathetic and so much about failure (theirs, and your own) that the results wouldn’t be worth too much to me.

Adventures in taste


I run into these Kettle Chips any time I’m in a fancy/yuppie/specialty kind of food store. I admit to not having paid attention closely over the years, but I remember them appearing as a brand of authentic old-timey traditional (i.e., “quality”) chips, and it seems that all of a sudden they’ve been coming out with crazier and crazier flavors.

This would be a good Consumed piece, don’t you think? How did the brand offering evolve to what it is now? Their website outlines their commitment to adventurous flavors, all natural, and more on the type of ingredients and preparation process. Much of that is typical for a food company, but the flavors is an interesting twist. I’m reminded of Method, who have built a story around cleaning products that are safe, not animal-tested, effective, smell good, and are packaged to look good. You can pick one or two of those (i.e., beautiful packaging) as a hook and identify with that, rather than have the whole story be important. It’s surprising to see a gourmet/quality story with unusual flavors, it’s surprising to see a safe cleanser with a gorgeous package that you can leave out. But beyond surprise is a sense that these might be the real attractors, while all that other stuff is just fine, of course.

Meanwhile, thinking about flavors reminded me of the awesome social commentary found in this riff from the Kids in the Hall:

In the beginning, there was Miracle Whip. One kind of cheese, and fish came in sticks. Bread was white, and milk was homo [there is a carton of “homo milk”]. Our condiments were mustard, relish, and ketchup. Our spices were salt, pepper, and paprika. These were our sacraments. [closes fridge]

Garlic was ethnic. Mysterious. Something out of the Arabian Nights. And then one day it happened. Food exploded. People, yeah, people put down their Alan’s Apple Juice and share of pudding, picked up a bowl of tofu, slathered it with President’s Choice spicy Thai sauce, yeah, and washed it all down with a mango-guava seltzer.

You know, there are so many new products nowadays and I confess half of them I can’t identify. I guess it’s like that with people too. You know I can’t tell a pita bread from a cactus pear or a Korean from a Filipino. I feel left behind. I do. I’m not *modern*.

I’m embarrassed to buy water in a bottle unless it’s for the iron. And I still believe– call me square but I still believe that tangerines are just for Christmas. You know what? I think it all started with marble cheese. I do! Yep. Well, think about it ’cause right after they introduced that, they came up with salt and vinegar chips. Then it was sour cream ‘n’ onion, homestyle, before you know it chips were being sold in a tuuube. Where will it all end?

Supermarkets begin to open in India

A few tidbits from this story

On a recent Friday morning in the southern India city of Hyderabad, one of the country’s biggest companies, Reliance, plunged into the retail market by opening 11 neighborhood supermarkets simultaneously across the city.

The stores offer customers long, clean, brightly lit aisles lined with deep black plastic bins full of produce, all clearly labeled with prices. There are even modern juice bars near the exits.

“I’m already a Reliance fan,” said one early customer, Amrit Dugar, a wedding planner. “I use them for my telecom and petrol.”

Such a different notion of brand. Phone company, gas station, grocery store? Seems like these large companies in India have unique combinations of holdings, but their brands transcend their categories.

India has only a few dozen very large supermarkets, but Reliance plans to change not just the scale of what Indian retailers have seen before, but also the way they get products to market.

The Reliance Fresh stores are a mere fraction the size of the average Western supermarket, but huge compared to the majority of Indian shops; fewer than 5 percent of the country’s stores are more than 500 square feet. In three to six months, Reliance Retail will open a few flagship stores with about 100,000 square feet of space each (the average Wal-Mart is 85,000 square feet) focusing on foods, not manufactured goods.

It plans to spend $5.6 billion to open more than 4,000 stores in 1,500 towns, cities and villages over the next four years, exceeding 100 million square feet of retail space.

The article goes on to describe the coming of retail in a big way, beyond just Reliance, and the impact that this can have on small businesses, and on employment in India. The numbers in this story, the size of the country and the tiny-ness of the current retail footprint and the plans — all are mind-boggling.

Grocery store rating system for food nutrition

The Hannaford grocery chain has developed their own ratings system for the nutritional value of grocery products. From this story

A New England supermarket chain has developed a 1-to-3 star nutritional rating system that flunks most of the foods consumers think are good for them.

After plugging 27,000 products into its system, the Hannaford Brothers chain found that 77 percent of the foods failed to receive even one good nutrition star, The New York Times reports.

Hannaford said many of the processed foods advertised as being healthy failed to gain a star because they contained too much sodium, sugar or fat.

Most fruits and vegetables earned the highest rating of three stars along with salmon and high-fiber cereals.

Making its debut in September, Hannaford’s rating system puts the chain in the awkward position of judging the very products it’s trying to sell. In fact, most of Hannaford’s own store brands failed to get any stars, the Times said.

“We are saying there are no bad foods,” Hannaford spokeswoman Caren Epstein told the newspaper. “This is a good, better and best system.”

Hannaford’s nutritionists acknowledge their system is more stringent than the guidelines used by the Food and Drug Administration.

A couple of things of note here. First, the subjectivity of any measuring and rating system means that establishing standards will always be tough. The challenge to non-nutritionists to understand the complexity of ingredients, preparation, nutrition, etc. is enormous. I would suggest it’s impossible. Do multiple layers of ratings systems help or hinder? And related, is the second issue, where a retailer (a food retailer, even) is assessing the quality of the products they are selling. If a product is packaged and branded as being healthy, but it’s label is in opposition to how many stars it receives, will there be pressure on Hannaford to back down? It seems that this is healthy for consumers (so to speak) but may be a retailing nightmare. I hope they stick to their guns, but I wonder if other channels would be so bold. The online world has brought us a lot of customer reviews that obviously can be quite critical, but does that work in a bricks+mortar setting when the negative assessment comes from the bricks+mortar itself?

The little touches that mean so much

We did an unplanned meal shopping thing at Safeway the other day – went in for that night’s meal, thinking “let’s get some fish, and maybe some vegetables.” We check out the fish and choose Dover Sole, relatively bland. We think about some spices and I go off to the spice aisle for something from Zatarains or whoever has that silhouetted dancing chef (anyone?), but then we see this pretty cool display right in front of our noses (there’s so much crap on display in these stores that I guess we tend to look past it when possible) – a variety of spices and marinades.

The fish-prepping man was incredibly nice, very genial, and asked lots of questions as he prepared our food (“how spicy do you like it?”, etc.). We could get the spices on the fish, or on the side. He pointed out another flavor they had but didn’t have room for in the display. We went from ingredients to meal with an enjoyable and custom bit of service (yeah, you can buy flavored/spiced fish and chicken, already done, but this was done at that moment, just for us).

Of course, there were no ingredients on these containers and if you’ve ever read the packages on marinades and flavoring spices you’ve probably noticed the ridiculous amount of salt they contain. We usually comparison shop at length until we find something that is not going to drown us in NaCl. Well, as you can imagine, the fish was spicy and really really really really salty. Each bit was like someone held your tongue with a pair of tongs and held a container of free-running salt above your head for a full minute.

Interestingly, I don’t blame Safeway for that. I take responsibility – caveat emptor – for purchasing a likely-to-be-salty product without finding out more. I compliment Safeway for providing a value-added experience (with the quality of the service – the human – really making it work). I guess we won’t do that next time, and will take the prep burden back on ourselves.

also: I thought the design of the marinade dispensers was kinda cool, allowing you to measure and presumably prevent overpouring.

Check out checking out


I was thinking about how to describe this mess of a Safeway receipt when I read a post on Niblettes that mentioned “brand diarrhea.”

[as I’ve said, I won’t call the person Niblettes, I’ll call him John, but I will call the blog Niblettes. This is my brand aphasia. Or silliness threshold]

They’ve jammed every form of bonus/status/ad/info at the end. For this purchase, the checkout dude even stopped afterwards and recited a lengthy speech referring me to the information located on the bottom of the receipt that I should check out if I had time. His tone suggested there was maybe something special there that I hadn’t noticed, something specific they would want me to find. But what?

He then called me Mr. Portugal and also gave me $100 cash-back, even though I had only paid for $80. I returned the other $20.

I was pretty intrigued by the discounted gas purchase available. But there’s no info on where to get that! Or any info about how to find out where to get that! Nothing on the back, either. Which makes it basically a useless offer if we can’t redeem it!

I await that heavenly day when I earn my free deli sandwich!

You talkin’ to me?

“To our valued customers:
In cooperation with the
recent FDA warning we
have pulled all fresh

This is a terrible sign. The grocer in this AP photo has simply attempted to cover their ass for not stocking the produce we might be searching for. There’s no helpful information about the FDA warning – we’re supposed to know about it. There’s an opportunity here to help people and remind them not to each spinach for the duration of this situation.

And what the hell does it mean to “have pulled” spinach? This is not how people communicate, this is how merchandisers talk.

I realize this is a reactive sign and not a lot of time was spent in composing it (although it’s not hand-written, it’s somewhat professional looking, so there was some measure of care), but the jargon and self-referential tone is disappointing.

I experienced something similar in a recent email

Mr. Portigal,

Sorry, you are having problems with your Salter Electronic Scale Model 929. The people of Taylor Precision Products take great pride in producing quality products. Salter Model 929 has a ten years warranty. Please return the scale to Taylor. Taylor does not require a receipt or the original box. Please enclose a brief note with your name, return address, explanation of problem. Kindly put the note inside a box with
the scale, return to the following:


Once your scale is received it will be replaced with a new Salter Model 929. Taylor than will mail the new scale back to the consumer. Turn around time of two to three weeks. I do hope this information proves to
be helpful to you.

How, in the course of a couple of short paragraphs, did “Mr. Portigal” morph into “the consumer”? Suddenly they are talking about me, not to me. What?

Not to grossly oversimply, but could it be that organizations spend too much time thinking about themselves, and not the people that they serve? The colloquial term is “drinking the Kool-Aid” and many companies, small and large, turn that into an asset that attracts and retains employees (“a strong culture”) but also presumably excites customers. But there’s a heavy black line on an org chart somewhere that splits the internal dialogs from the external ones, and the strong culture builds in shorthands and buzzwords that alienate and exclude the people on the outside – the ones that those companies are in business to serve.

The business press (and even worse, the blogosphere) is filled with enthusiastic writing about infectious passionate customer/marketing/blah but things are far far messier than any of those authors would want you to believe.

Fruit Comes To The Door – but from how far?

In Fruit Comes To The Door I wrote about some our experience with home delivery of organic produce

Small farms – I don’t know if this true and I don’t care to verify it but I get the vibe that the producers of these products (perhaps because of the organic thing) are small businesses themselves, and as consumers we hear about the corporate farms and how that’s vaguely bad, so there’s a further flavor of Doing Good attached to this purchase.
Local farms – Again, I don’t know if this is true, but it’s part of the mythology of the service – but I’m guessing the food hasn’t come a long way (the stand itself highlights some local farms). We’re being told that having a product sit on a truck and burn fuel to go a long distance isn’t good for us or the environment.

Nice improvement to the weekly pricelist from Sweet Peas (in the form of a spreadsheet) – now includes the name of the grower, their location, and the distance to Montara, where Sweet Peas (and we) are located.

Much, but not everything is local (however you interpret that term), but at least they are transparent about it. Way to go, Sweet Peas!

Speaking of local food, I had an amazing (free) lunch at Google’s Cafe 150 a few weeks back. Everything is from within 150 miles.

Fruit Comes To The Door


In a post-Omnivore’s Dilemma world, we had a recent chance to participate in a service usually reserved for big cities – home delivery of organic produce.

Here in Montara (pop. 4000 or something; home to an Alpaca ranch, a cafe, and a convenience store but very little else commercial) there is a little produce stand called “Sweet Peas” and they’ve begun home delivery.

I don’t think I’ve ever had non-restaurant food delivered (and I can’t remember the last time I had restaurant food delivered at home). We were totally struck by our visit to the suburbs of Mumbai when our host called and ordered some bottles of water and cigarettes and they appeared a few minutes later. One of my first real design/research projects, in fact, was a grocery store home delivery service (pre-Webvan, in fact, pre-web). And many many years later, I finally experienced it.

They send out a Tuesday email with a spreadsheet; you fill it out and email it back that day and the food comes on Friday. Leave the resuable boxes (they have our names on a sticker) out next week and do it all over again

I’m intrigued by the complexity of the cultural factors that impact the experience, and here’s my first pass at it:

Home delivery – food comes to the door – time-saving and convenience
Organic – I admit I don’t care about this as a principle, but some of the food does taste better, richer, fresher. There’s a snob factor to organic as well that I’m sure I am participating in. Hey, those two boxes cost $41. The prices are definitely higher, but I’m trying not to compare apples and apples, if you will.
Local business – I am surprised at how much this appeals to me – maybe the lack of commerce in my area makes this more tangible. Maybe I can relate, as a small business myself. The fact that we walk our dog past the owner’s home and see the garage filled with produce boxes makes it more tangible; we’re presumably doing good for our community and helping someone we can point to make a living. Of course, our Safeway employs locally and shopping there gives people jobs well. But Safeway seems like The Man and this feels like Sticking It To The Man; a rare chance to feel some power, to have some choices. These delivery services have appeared over the past several years in big places like New York (where FreshDirect seems to have had a similar cultural impact to Starbucks) and Vancouver. We’re getting some of that big city flavor of small(er) business in our own small community.
Small farms – I don’t know if this true and I don’t care to verify it but I get the vibe that the producers of these products (perhaps because of the organic thing) are small businesses themselves, and as consumers we hear about the corporate farms and how that’s vaguely bad, so there’s a further flavor of Doing Good attached to this purchase.
Local farms – Again, I don’t know if this is true, but it’s part of the mythology of the service – but I’m guessing the food hasn’t come a long way (the stand itself highlights some local farms). We’re being told that having a product sit on a truck and burn fuel to go a long distance isn’t good for us or the environment.
Reactive eating – For our first purchase, we picked from a list, but Sweet Peas will also let you specify a weekly dollar amount and simply pick stuff for you based on what’s fresh that week. In combination with the local food thing, this suggests a different philosophy of food consumption, that we bend with nature rather than forcing it to our will through the magic of science
Surprise and Mass CustomizationBecause of their local and small nature, Sweet Peas seems very willing to help come up with a weekly menu that is some combination of staples (i.e., we always want 3 bananas) and what’s fresh (i.e., to make a total of $XX.XX). Even if we don’t make use of that, the flexibility and choice seem very appealing.

Campbell’s Gardennay

I realize I’d been away from Canada quite a while when I saw Campbell’s Gardennay on the grocery store shelves (of course, you know I’m into that stuff). It just seemed like the worst, most awkward faux-Euro brand name. I’m amused to see American DiGiorno appear in Canada as Delicio, but mostly, this Campbell’s soup name just seems weird and strange. But then, I don’t live in the target region. Anymore.

Museum Disaster

Remember last month when someone attacked Duchamp’s urinal “Fountain” with a hammer? How horrified the museum administrators would have been! I can relate because today I went into the garage and saw the archives of the Museum of Foreign Groceries had been plundered by a varmint who entered the garage, prying open the non-sealing storage containers (those ones that simply press shut, but don’t snap shut), and ripping up all sorts of boxes and packages and the like. Many of which are not replaceable, and several of which I hadn’t ever photographed.

I’ve contacted Lloyds of London to see if they’ll honor the Raccoon Policy but I guess this just means more grocery shopping in more foreign countries will have to be in my future.

Milk: delicious but deadly

One of my favorite things to track down, foodwise, on a return trip to Canada, are milk drinks that are flavored like chocolate bars. They are amazing; they capture the exact taste of a specific chocolate bar in a completely different form factor. From a solid to a liquid, with the same mix of tastes. Last trip we tried the Rolo version.

It was as incredible as every other one I’ve tried. It tasted like a Rolo, but it was a liquid. I can’t stop repeating the superlatives and proclaiming the sensorial wonder of it all, sorry.

So it was cool to see that here in the US we’ve got a similar product available now.

Milky Way and Three Musketeers. We bought both but have only tried the Milky Way. It’s good, but not stunning. It has the flavor components of Milky Way, but they don’t replicate the bar experience.

I am hopeful to see this category of product here in the US, though. Maybe we’ll get more of ’em, especially if they can figure out how to get it right.


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