Something to Chew On

I call my link posts “news chum” because I want them to be like chum in the water, drawing out commentors to fresh meat. Now, with that fresh in your mind, here’s some lunch-time news chum related to food, plus some other stuff to chew on…

  • Rethinking the Package. Everyday, when I get my salad for lunch, I make my own dressing: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and mustard. Our cafeteria used to have squeeze bottles of mustard, but now only has those impossible to open packets. That may change. Heinz is redesigning the condiment packaging (specifically, for ketchup) to move from the squeeze packet to (a) something that holds more (3 x more), and (b) something that can be used to dip. Looking at the picture of the new packaging, I think this will be quite an improvement. Wendy’s will be introducing them later this year and they’re in the testing stage at McDonald’s and Burger King.
  • Rethinking the Burger. Burgers have also been in the news. Wendy’s has just redesigned their burgers to try to improve sales. The new burger, Dave’s Hot and Juicy, has lots of little tweaks. They switched to whole-fat mayonnaise, nixed the mustard, and cut down on the pickles and onions, all to emphasize the flavor of the beef. They switched to red onions and crinkled pickles. They also started storing the cheese at higher temperatures so it would melt better, a change that required federal approval. It also features extra cheese, a thicker beef patty, and a toasted buttered bun. Many suggestions sounded good but didn’t ring true with tasters. They tried green-leaf lettuce, but people preferred to keep iceberg for its crunchiness. They thought about making the tomato slices thicker but decided they didn’t want to ask franchisees to buy new slicing equipment. They even tested a round burger, a trial that was practically anathema to a company that’s made its name on square burgers. Wendy’s ultimately did not go with the round shape, but changed the patty to a “natural square,” with wavy edges, because tasters said the straight edges looked processed. They also started packing the meat more loosely, trained grill cooks to press down on the patties two times instead of eight, and printed “Handle Like Eggs” on the boxes that the hamburger patties were shipped in so they wouldn’t get smashed. And Wendy’s researchers knew that customers wanted warmer and crunchier buns, so they decided that buttering them and then putting them through a toaster was the way to go.

    Not to be outdone, Carl’s Jr. has introduced what they call the “Steakhouse Burger”. It features a Black Angus beef patty, smothered with A.1. steak sauce, Swiss cheese and crumbled blue cheese, crispy onion strings and the standard lettuce, tomatoes and mayonnaise. Commercials will feature the “god of hamburgers.” Dubbed Hamblor, the deity is, in true Carl’s Jr. fashion, surrounded by skimpily dressed women.

  • Rethinking Theater Snacks. Are you a popcorn eater when you go to the movie theater? Some eat because they like fresh popcorn. Some eat out of habit. A recent survey showed that regular theatergoers at the same amount of popcorn, whether it was fresh or stale. Specifically, in a project conducted and funded by Duke University, researchers sent 98 people to a theater on the pretense they were participating in a study about what draws consumers to movies. They gave everyone boxes of popcorn. Some boxes had popcorn made an hour earlier; others had the week-old snack. People who rarely or only occasionally eat popcorn at movies stayed away from the stale sample, eating much more of the fresh snack. The moviegoers who always eat popcorn in the theater, however, were different. They ate the same amount, irrespective of whether it was fresh or stale.
  • Rethinking the Cafeteria. Major remodeling is coming to Clifton’s Brookdale in DTLA (that’s “downtown LA”, for those not in the know). The cafeteria is closing for a $3mil, 3-6 mo remodeling. Although the dining areas will retain their kitschy forest-theme, there will be a new kitchen (where equipment dated from 1915-1949), a new cafeteria line layout, upgraded plumbing and electrical, a new facade, as well as adding a small, tiki-themed bar in the basement and a third-floor speakeasy reached via a hidden entrance on the main floor.
  • Rethinking Fresh. I mentioned this one yesterday, but fear it got lost. Fast Company has a very nice article on how Whole Foods convinces you their food is uber-fresh. What looks like chalk signs from the farmers who just pulled up are actually mass-produced signs from a factory. Ice is everywhere, and vegetables are dripping with water—all creating the “fresh from the field” impression (never mind the fact this makes the vegetables rot faster). Bananas are displayed at just the right color to get you to buy. Manipulation is everywhere, friends.

And speaking of manipulation and food for thought, two political things. USA Today has a supposed fact check about how the rich pay more taxes. Remember: there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. The rich do often pay more money. Does this indicate a higher rate? Depends how you look at it. The rich do pay a higher rate on earned income, but a much lower rate on capital gains and investment income. So it all depends on how they get their money and shelter their money. Now, is it wrong for the government to want more income? Not really; your family would if they were in dire straights. The difference is that you know the efficiency of your family: you know you have cut to the bone, and therefore need more money. Given the size of government, it is impossible for them to convince people they have cut to the bone; therefore, there will be people who object to more taxes while more cuts are possible. This is why the political game is so hard.

Another political thing: Obama’s election odds keep slipping. I’ve already seen one editorial calling for Obama to withdraw as a candidate. It has happened before: Lyndon Johnson chose not to run for reelection in 1968 because he knew he couldnt’ win. The question is: If Obama withdrew and another Democratic candidate emerged, could the Democrats retain the White House? It is certainly an interesting scenario to think about.