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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"

How We Are Being Cheated
At The Grocery Store

by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand

If you come across a woman counting the nuts in Rocky Road ice cream, that'd be me. I'm trying to actually catch corporate marketing wizards in the act of trying to fool us. If Ben & Jerry (now owned by Unilever, of London and Netherlands) are even one nut short, I'm unfriending them on Facebook and, while I'm at it, I'd like to unfriend some of the corporations that seem to be trying to get away with little, sneaky cheats.


I thought I was losing my mind when a bar of Dial soap got finished off more than a week earlier than it used to. I don't keep a graph or anything, what'm I crazy?, but I suspected the indentation in the bottom of my Dial soap was deeper than usual, leaving a considerably smaller bar of soap that looked the same in the wrapper, but wasn't. So I found an old bar of Dial soap in the pantry and sure enough, there used to be a slight indentation, not such a deep one. Henkel International owns Dial Soap and, since their motto is "A Brand Like a Friend" it should be easy to unfriend them. They tout Henkel as an American company when further investigations discloses that Henkel is a subsidiary of a German conglomerate. We may think we're buying American, but we aren't. Still, Germans are smart so it shouldn't be too hard to turn that deep Dial dent back into a slight nook instead of a recess in which you could park your tractor.


With a name like Mother's, you'd expect sweet treatment, right? I don't know about their other cookies, I only buy their Taffy cookies, the ones they call their "... famous toasted cookie with smooth, sweet creme." Sounds like they're the same cookie as always, but no, a betrayal by Mother's is as painful as finding out the Easter Bunny is just a dressed up rabbit who steals eggs from Chicken Little. Cookie filling, which once went corner to corner, is now a mere dollop in the center, squished flat and doesn't touch all the edges. Hey Mother's, the word is "filling," meaning that it's supposed to "fill" the cookie. Mother's should find another way to satisfy investors because, ever since they were gobbled up by Kellog's, the cookie fillings are shrinking.
Sun-Maid seedless raisins package graphic

SUN-MAID Raisin Bread

I can see there are fewer raisins in my favorite bread. I love Sun-Maid raisins, in business since 1912, but breadmaker Sara Lee? Not so much. With a name like that, we picture our grandmother or aunt baking in her kitchen and we get the warm fuzzies. But Sara Lee is now just a massive conglomerate known as Saralee, which was absorbed into the giant Grupo Bimbo (bakeries). Happily, Sun-Maid is still a fine cooperative located in central California, and they still supply the raisins for Sun-Maid Bread. Trivia: The name of the original Sun Maid Girl on their famous logo was Lorraine Collett. Lorraine was a real girl, who handed out raisin samples to visitors of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Actress/model Liz Weide is today's Sun-Maid Girl, updated in 1970.


Obviously a ploy to make us think we're helping the environment by no longer being able to use plastic bags previously supplied by stores at no charge, consumers in some states are now required to pay for paper bags (we were touted off paper years ago in favor of plastic, in order to "save trees"), or bags made of cassava, a woody South American shrub used as the basis for tapioca, or bags made of hemp, or canvas. We now have to carry those bags with us and not leave them in the car while we shop; if we forget them, we have to buy new ones. If the point is to help the environment, how come the produce departments still supply free small plastic bags for veggies and fruits, plastic bags are still sold by Glad and Hefty for sandwiches and trash cans, plastic bags are still sold for lawn and leaf bags, contractor bags, and other uses. Truth: free plastic is gone, and paid replacements have taken their place. At least, if we buy the cassava bags, we can later eat them for dessert.


I love this American family-owned cheese company, one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S. and here's why: Each slice of their ultra-thin extra-sharp cheddar cheese is separated by a soft piece of white paper for easy removal. But not for Swiss. For ultra-thin Swiss cheese, they used no paper at all and the cheese slices stuck together. Ever vigilant, they realized their efforts to save a little money made for unhappy consumers. Mine couldn't have been the only complaint. They've now added paper to Swiss and all is well. That's why I love this company. American. Employs close to 2,000 employees and has good, old-fashioned customer service.


Since there are dozens of wet cleaning wipes from major corporations, there must be a lot of consumers who buy them. So I must be the only one who finds that, though they shorten cleaning time, they do nothing at all except push the dust across the surface. After wiping those surfaces, instead of nearly invisible dust, I find little wet bits that look like black threads. They appear to be immune to getting wiped up no matter how many times I swipe at them. At least with dust, you can blow it off. I still buy the wet wipes and mumble to myself about how inefficient they are.

Beware of your old favorite products in new packaging, containers of different shape than before, and weight change. Have you noticed things like these in your daily life, things that seem smaller, bottles narrower, contents lighter? I used to think it was me, but it's not. It's them. Call the 800 number on their packaging and tell them you've noticed the change and don't like it. Some of them listen.

As soon as I finish counting the nuts in my Rocky Road, I'm gonna start counting the nuts in corporate offices.

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" - August 14, 2017 column

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