Each time I pass by the potato chips aisle in my local grocery store, I check to see if they’ve added any smaller bags of a particular product. It’s more of a cracker than a chip, but regardless, the store has only ever carried a rather large size. During my most recent trip, the bag sizes remained the same, but they were running a sale that made even the big size a no-brainer.

So, I set out to find the original flavor that I’m familiar with. This was easier said than done, since the top of the display featured some sort of ultra cheddar flavor, followed by some nonsense like mega salsa, and so on. It wasn’t until I crouched to the floor that I found the original, classic flavor on the lowest shelf.

Now, I understand that brands are always trying to spice things up with new and occasionally bizarre flavors. But displaying these so prominently that the tried-and-true original version is nearly lost may not be the best idea. Sure, you’d have to test it both ways. But I think there’s a lot to be said for always ensuring that the original flavor is close at hand, for frequent purchasers and occasional buyers alike.

I’ve noticed an odd contradiction in at least one local restaurant. The situation goes like this: the restaurant promotes itself as using organic, locally-grown, all natural, or otherwise healthy ingredients. And for the most part, there’s no reason to believe they aren’t abiding by this guideline when preparing your food. However, the condiments on the table tell a different story.

In one example, the restaurant provides butter and jelly in little single-serve containers with breakfast. The butter is generic, but the jelly is a well-known brand. The first ingredient in that jelly? High fructose corn syrup. Yep, it’s more sugar than fruit. And I doubt the corn came from a local farm, either.

Granted, this is a small detail in the context of the overall dining experience. However, it’s more likely to be noticed when you’re positioning the restaurant as the type of place that would never serve mass-produced stuff. Returning to my example, I’m guessing there’s a way to buy little containers of organic fruit spreads or jam with no sugar added. And if those aren’t available from typical restaurant supply houses, I bet the farms that provide the other fresh ingredients would be happy to add natural jelly to their offerings.

Will switching the condiment selection to health-oriented versions help you sell more food? Maybe, maybe not. But if you’re already investing the time and money to make customers associate your restaurant with organic and local ingredients, it makes sense to go the extra mile and be consistent about it.

During a recent trip to the grocery store, one of the items on my shopping list was frozen broccoli. As I scanned the freezer shelves, I saw a great deal on one brand, which was selling for less than a dollar per pound. However, I was a little bit confused, since the same brand appeared to offer three different kinds of frozen broccoli — chopped, cuts, and florets — but only two of those versions had prices marked on the shelf.

When I brought the broccoli to the checkout lane, I learned that the florets were more than twice the price of the other kinds, so I respectfully declined to purchase them. And since the packages of each version look very similar, I doubt I’m the first shopper to be puzzled by the widely divergent pricing.

What’s the takeaway here? If you sell several products that are similar to one another, but one of those variants is considerably more expensive, then don’t give the more costly version the same packaging as the cheaper ones. Perhaps the top-of-the-line product can be labeled as “Premium”, or have a different color package. Either way, it pays to give customers a visual cue so they can differentiate more expensive products from cheaper ones, since otherwise you run the risk of setting low price expectations that will be impossible to meet.

Newer than new


While watching TV the other day, I noticed that the latest episode of a new series was labeled as “Brand New”. Not “New”, not “New Episode”, but “Brand New”. This strikes me as a bit odd, since the notion of new with regards to a TV show is really an all-or-nothing thing. If the episode has never aired before, then it’s new. Otherwise, it’s not.

With that in mind, it doesn’t make any sense that a particular episode could be anything besides “New” or a repeat. This makes labels like “Brand New” and “All New” rather superfluous, since the show can’t be newer than new. However, if these hyperbolic labels help generate a larger audience than just plain “New”, I guess TV networks will continue using them — even if they don’t convey any additional information to the viewer.

While sorting through some mail the other day, I noticed what appeared to be a greeting card from a local business. My address on the envelope almost looked hand-written, but closer inspection showed that it was just a computer font designed to mimic handwriting. As I opened the envelope, I found a generic “Happy Thanksgiving” card inside, with zero attempt by the sender to personalize it.

What’s wrong with this picture? Aside from the question of when Thanksgiving became a greeting card holiday, the sender obviously printed up the envelopes through some sort of mail merge. That’s all fine and good, but they also selected a font for the envelope that was apparently designed to look hand-written. Thus, the address sets the expectation that there might be something personalized inside, but the contents are entirely generic.

As a result, the recipient gets the impression that the sender thinks they’re dumb enough to be fooled by a fancy font, even when the card inside lacks any personalization. Presuming that the purpose of sending this type of card is to stay front of mind and build loyalty, I’d say the end result is likely to fall quite a bit short.

What’s the takeaway here? If you’re going to use mail merge or another mass mailing feature, don’t try to disguise an impersonal communication as a personalized one. Sure, people might be more likely to throw away an envelope that’s addressed in a regular computer font than a handwriting-style one. But at least those who open the envelope won’t feel like they were tricked into doing so by the promise of a personalized message.

For something as simple as an expiration date, there sure are a lot of varieties. Some products say “Sell by”, others say “Use by” or “Best before”, and still others just revert to “Expiration” or “Expires” or a suitable abbreviation for one of those.

As another wrinkle, I’ve seen a few items that provide storage guidelines to supplement the expiration date. These might take the form of “Keeps longer when refrigerated”, “Stays fresh longer in the freezer”, and so on. But this raises a question: if you refrigerate or freeze those items, are they good past the expiration date, and if so, for how long?

Obviously, the answer will depend on the specific type of product, how it responds to refrigeration, and other factors. But for those companies that are already printing the type of message I mentioned right on the package, it seems like quantifying the term “longer” shouldn’t be too difficult. In other words, they could just re-run the original tests that were used to determine the expiration date, but with the product refrigerated or frozen during that span of time. Then, the message could be changed to something like “Good for up to 3 months past the expiration date when kept in freezer”.

Granted, this approach means more work for the manufacturer and more words to cram onto the packaging. But it also gives consumers a better idea of the longevity and value the product offers, which may lead to a significant increase in sales.

Getting groceries delivered is a huge time saver. Combined with a strategy of limiting those deliveries to the heaviest or least-overpriced items, it can be budget-friendly as well. However, there’s one issue that I’ve found hard to overcome: sometimes, the delivery service will bring you products with laughably short expiration dates.

For instance, I received a delivery last week that included a bunch of yogurt. Every one of the containers had an expiration date that was about 10 days out, which seemed awfully short to me. I happened to be in a local grocery store later that morning, and decided to check when their yogurt expired. Sure enough, every container I saw carried a date more than two weeks further out than the ones I received from the delivery company.

So, I called up customer service and explained the issue. They were incredulous and refused to issue even a partial credit. How did they justify this? The rep claimed that their policy is to follow the USDA guidelines for dairy products, which supposedly only require expiration dates to be 7 days out.

In other words, the delivery company told me that they only seek to do the bare minimum. If the government regulations allow them to sell products that no sensible consumer would buy in a retail store, then it’s good enough for their customer service guidelines. I guess that’s the company’s decision, but I think they’re being a little shortsighted. After all, groceries are a competitive market. I can easily get the same product across the street and never buy it from the delivery service again. Sure, it might not be as convenient as having the item delivered, but no amount of convenience can make up for receiving an inferior version of the product that the customer may have to throw away before they get to use it.