Friday 02 Dec 2016

More Food News
David Simmonds

Although the editorial staff, of this web site, is preoccupied following every thread of the wind turbines story, this column has taken on the necessary monitoring of recent developments in the food industry. I have three biggies to report on.

The first was so big you probably heard about it as well. Hormel Foods, the maker of the iconic Spam brand of canned meat, is buying the Skippy peanut butter brand from Unilever corporation for $US 700 million. Skippy has been around since 1932, and is the number two peanut butter in the U.S. It is the number one brand in China, where Hormel wishes to grow its Spam business. What’s the connection? Both are ‘non-perishable’ foods sold nearby one another in the grocery store. Spam and Skippy can help one another out. In a couple of years, once this acquisition digests, I would look for Hormel to complete the trifecta and go after the Cheez Whiz brand.

The Hormel people do have a couple of challenges. Being number one in China is certainly better than being number two or number three, but the Chinese don’t eat much peanut butter compared to the Americans, who put away four pounds of the stuff per person per year. Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger admits that peanut butter is “not yet a household staple” in China; but knows that it can be sold as a cheap and convenient source of protein. However, I don’t envy being the person whose neck is on the block to seal the marketing deal. “Eat it and you’ll start to resemble Americans” hardly sounds like it would do the trick. “At least it doesn’t fall off your chopsticks” doesn’t seem to cut it either. Nor would a video entitled “Skippynam Style” likely generate close to a billion hits.

The other challenge is to exploit the synergies between peanut butter and Spam, such as they are. One approach contemplated is, in Ettinger’s words, to “take Skippy out of the jar" in the same way it has taken “Spam out of the can.” Hormel either introduced or is about to introduce such products as Spam pepperoni sticks, microwaveable Spam jambalaya and Spam macaroni and cheese. Skippy peanut butter, in other words, could become dried-rice noodle flavouring, an ice cream bar or a tea. Another approach would be to combine the pleasures of both products directly - a tactic that would send recipe creators all over the globe scurrying for their kitchens, or at least their kitchen knives.

On to biggie number two. At the higher end of the spectrum, Loblaw’s is rolling out its new line of “President’s Choice Black Label” products that will enable you to “satisfy your inner foodie.” In the Baking Products department, for example, you can now find “Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Bean Paste” and “Normandy Style Salted Cultured Butter.” In the Oil and Vinegar department, you can obtain the “Hickory Smoke Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil” that you’ve been looking for all these years, or stock up on that “100 per cent Pure Roasted Pistachio Oil” that the kids are always asking for when they visit.

The marketing for these products consists of short and slick video promos, the majority of which seem to feature female voices promising intimacy as a reward for following the Black Label product recipe. Once there is an over the top end of the market product out there, we know we‘re surely going to be guilt-tripped into buying it. After all, we don’t want our neighbours coming over for dinner and muttering to themselves on the way home that all they got was some lousy plain extra virgin olive oil when their hosts could just as easily have served up some Hickory Smoke Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil, had they cared enough to do so. They could have got it at Loblaw’s, for goodness sake.

Whether at the high end or the low end, it’s all enough to make the average person who must occasionally buy food crave a stiff drink. This is why biggie number three comes as no real surprise. The Ontario government, hot on the heels of a Conservative proposal to end the provincial liquor monopoly, has just announced the establishment of ten “LCBO Express” outlooks at to-be-named grocery stores around the province. Talk about convenience. I could probably pick up a bottle of wine at a test location in Marmora when I buy my weekly nourishment at the Foodland, and save myself a half-kilometre drive to the LCBO store in Wellington into the bargain.

Finance minister Dwight Duncan has stated the project could rapidly expanded into many more grocery stores if successful. Mr. Duncan, if you want success, then let all the grocery stores sell Spam, Skippy or President’s Choice Black Label products.

Now about those wind turbines ...

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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