Wednesday, February 13, 2008

You Can't Argue "Taste"

Some people adore the taste of cinnamon; others gag when they even smell it. Some people love anything with mint in it; others react with "oh yuck." Some people are more sensitive to the taste of things; for others, the taste is irrelevant. You really cannot argue taste bud taste.

But what about taste that isn't the kind that depends on the taste buds? Let me illustrate what I mean specifically. Years back there was a national brand of soup in cans that was under the OU. Everyone, but everyone used that soup. They served it plain as soup and they used it as a sauce and they used it in cooking and in baking (the company gave out recipes.) When seen in the dollars of those days, the soup was darned expensive. At a time that kosher hamburger could be gotten at 39 cents a pound and chicken on sale could be gotten for 19 cents a pound, paying 50 cents for a can of soup was expensive.

One of the supermarkets, Waldbaums, saw that the soup was a big seller and decided to offer the same kinds of soups in their own store brand, also under the OU. I like trying new food products so I purchased a can of the cream of mushroom soup. When I opened the can I remember thinking that it looked just like the national brand. First I made some as regular soup, and it tasted just like the national brand. Then I used it in a sauce, and it was just like the national brand. I was convinced and I switched to the store brand. The regular price of the soup was only 19 cents a can--40% of the price of the national brand. On sale the soup cost 10 cents a can. Did the entire world switch to the Waldbaum's brand? Nope. There were many, the majority actually, who believed that the national brand was better, tasted better and worked better in cooking.

When I had company and used soup as a sauce in one of the dishes that was popular back then I said nothing about the type of soup I was using. I merely smiled when a guest would say "You can't beat_________soup for making this type of sauce!"

Enter the irony. Manufacturers are not stupid. They know that some people will not buy their products because of the price. They know that store brands are usually priced lower than national brands. They don't want to lose out on the consumer that buys the store brand. So they get the best of both worlds. They produce their national brand and they also, under contract with a store chain, produce the SAME product carrying the store label. Yes, the same product. That cheaper soup I was buying was the more expensive soup wearing a different label. I spoke with a mashgiach at the OU about the product and he confirmed this. What was in the vats was the same soup; only the can labels were different.

Those national brands also manufacture less expensive lines of their expensive products under two brand names. What's less expensive about the products? The hype. The advertising is not there. They are not trying to establish a product's cachet with consumers. These products are not sold in the "upscale" stores. The packaging is plainer. A super expensive line of women's makeup, usually sold in the most expensive shopping venues, now has repackaged their product and "developed" a new line to be sold at Kohls and Target and KMart. And oh does it cost less then the same product under a different name. [Just an ironic note here: Bendel's recently introduced one of those cheaper products in the store to see if the new name would appeal to their customers--at a zillion times what the product is going for at Target.]

Sometimes you really do like the taste or feel or smell of product A better than that of product B, when both are made by different manufacturers. My husband can tell the difference between Heinz ketchup and all the other brands even in a blindfold taste test, and he prefers the Heinz, so I buy Heinz. But there are products, lots of products, where the only difference in "taste" is caused by the cachet of the label on the product.

The question to ask yourself is do you want to keep the money in your pocket or do you want to put the money into the pockets of the manufacturers? Where the only difference between two products is the label on the package, what is it you are really buying? Where the only difference is that "Fancy Store A" sells one of the products while "Plain Store B" sells the other, what are you really buying? Smart shoppers, and people who stick to a budget, know that paying for label cachet is just plain dumb.


Anonymous said...

Amen! I'm not in position to shop in the expensive stores or pay the big money for things. But I've learned how to play the game. When someone asks where I bought something my answer is "Bloomies was having a really great sale." I haven't really lied to anyone because I didn't say I bought the item at Bloomingdales but everyone else is satisfied that I'm shopping in the right places.

Anonymous said...

We live where labels are a really big thing and I just can't afford to keep up with that. I do have some labeled clothes that I got in the sale houses and I just keep recycling the labels from those clothes. I cut the label from the old clothes and sew it into the new ones. People get to see what they are looking for and no one has anything to talk about me. Crazy way to live though.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't the real question be why we are so crazy about labels? It's not just food and clothes and the things we buy. We put those labels on people and act like some labels are better then other labels.

Anonymous said...

I went to FIT and I sew all my own clothes. I look at what the big name designers are putting out and then I sew my own tsniusdik version. Funny part is that people look at my clothes and always compliment me on buying designer X's stuff. And they always say you can tell by the cut or by the material or by the workmanship. Weirdest comment yet was when someone told my mom that I must be making an incredible salary because look how I'm dressed. We both laughed at that one.

Scraps said...

Amen. My family was never much obsessed over labels (although I'll admit that I'm also a ketchup snob). The obsession with having to wear the "Right" clothes, the "Right" shoes, the "Right" everything, is stupid, wasteful, and unnecessary. It also puts needless social pressure on those who can't afford it to appear to keep up anyway, even though it's beyond their means.

Anonymous said...

An old saying -

Al Ta'am Va'reach En Ma Lehitvakeach!