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Wednesday, November 04, 2015

GROCERY FUN: PLASTIC SACKS AND PURPLE KETCHUP

When I graduated from college in 1969 I felt pretty good.  I was still in my 20’s and I had served four years in the Air Force to get my military obligation out of the way (that’s right, “obligation” since we all had to serve in those times but that’s a story for another day).  I had a beautiful wife (still do!) who taught school plus a new job with Lever Brothers Company as a salesman selling household products to the grocery and drug trade.  I made $7,200 a year and had the free use of a ’68 Ford company car.  That was a good deal in those days of $1 six packs of Budweiser and Schlitz!

By 1976, I had left Lever to work for a grocery store supply distributor.  It was great; I received a commission on my sales and didn’t have to sell consumer products anymore.  

 In 1978 we introduced plastic grocery sacks with handles to the grocery trade.  They were called “Marketotes” and although they were plastic instead of paper, they eventually overtook paper in popularity and are considered the norm today in most retail establishments.  That isn’t to say they were readily accepted as a substitute for paper sacks.  A good example of that is an unfortunate presentation I made to an IGA supermarket manager in Mexico, Missouri on a 100 plus degree day in 1978.

The main part of my pitch was to demonstrate the strength of the sack.  To do that I had bought four six packs of a cheap Midwest beer called “Goetz.”  I would put the four six packs in a plastic sack and swing it around to show the strength of the plastic vs. paper.  Then I would punch holes in the sack with a ballpoint pen to further illustrate its strength.  Unfortunately, the beer had been in the hot car too long and when the pen touched one of the cans, it caused a pinhole which then sprayed hot cheap beer all over the store manager.  Needless to say the guy wasn’t happy as he frowned through the beer dripping off his glasses.  Fortunately, at a later date he did let me install them mentioning that another demonstration was not needed. 

In those days we had a saying: “Selling is fun.”  In most cases that is still true but as I look at some of the items that have been presented to grocery stores over the years it makes me wonder what some companies are thinking.  Phil Hawkes of the Arizona Food Industry Journal points to some real head scratchers in that publication’s October edition.  

YUM! PURPLE KETCHUP!
For example, somebody at Heinz once decided it might be a good idea to sell Heinz Ketchup in an EZ Squirt bottle.  That’s not a bad idea in itself but they decided that it would be neat to present ketchup in colors of green, blue, and purple. Now I ask you, how ridiculous was that?  Did they actually expect the most particular eaters in the world (kids) to eat colored ketchup?  Of course the product was a flop; everyone wants red ketchup.

Do you remember Wow potato chips?  For whatever reason the number one maker of snack foods, Frito-Lay, came out with a line of products containing “Olestra” which was a fat free substitute for making potato and tortilla chips.  It was later discovered that there were several unpleasant side effects caused by Olestra and the products with them were discontinued.

Phil points out that probably the most prominent member of the failed product Hall of Fame would have to be New Coke. He mentions that it was the “Edsel of the food industry.”  I agree and at the time it appeared on April 23, 1985 I was still a member of the food business.  My first thought was, why would they change a successful 99 year formula; especially since Coke was by far a number one selling brand?

Coke quickly returned the original coke recipe a couple of months later and called it Coca Cola Classic.  It was a lesson well learned proving that success isn’t something to be tampered with.

(You can also check me out on Twitter at JimMcAl97307903)