Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Feeding mediocrity

Manhattan clam chowder    photo: stu_spivack
It all started with my enthusiasm for Manhattan clam chowder. All supermarkets carry white (New England style) clam chowder but hardly anyone carried the tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder. For a while, Safeway carried it, but one day I noticed that it was missing from the shelves. I discovered that it had been discontinued as it was nowhere near as popular as New England clam chowder. Evidently, there were a few more popular New England clam chowders and Safeway's still carried all of those.

Evidently, modern marketing says that if you have a soup-can display and  some varieties do not sell that well, you stop ordering those and order, instead, more of the popular varieties. This seemed to be true for all products and I started noticing other disappearances as well. Gone were the cans of  really spicy tamales, and in the same department, enchilada sauce had also vanished. Then, the low cost lumpfish caviar vanished -- actually all caviar as they had never carried Russian sturgeon caviar. As the years passed, rabbit vanished from meat department as did all types of liver save for beef (and not calf, at that) and chicken.

Things were starting to vanish far too frequently. I remembered the Calgary of decades ago when you could easily buy truffles, cans of abalone, and even cans of jellied eels at a supermarket. I began to engage in some reductio ad absurdum. Where would all of this modern marketing lead? I could only think that the supermarket of the future would carry only two or three varieties of "people chow" -- something like Soylent Green without the bad connotations, perhaps.

It seems that modern marketing has made a blunder. Whenever a supermarket stopped carrying enough of my favorite products, I just switched to another supermarket -- for everything. Eventually, though, there was no supermarket that did not stop ordering things that I liked. Not long ago, I wanted to make some California sushi rolls, so I bought all of the ingredients I needed -- but I could not find the nori. I asked a manager who told me that they had stopped carrying it as it was not a big seller. I put back all of the groceries I had gathered to that point and left to find another supermarket -- one that carried nori.

I have also started to see some new shops emerging -- there are more independent butchers, bakers, fish merchants -- even a genuine chocolatier (one who actually roasts his own cacao beans). Will the supermarkets ever catch on? Will they ever discover that if their customers cannot find enough of what they like, they might not just buy what they are told and perhaps find new places to shop? But perhaps there will be enough business from the mediocre to ensure their survival. Mediocrity, like democracy, is majority rule after all.

Today, I plan to buy some sirloin steaks. I could get them at any supermarket -- although I know that one of them adds water to their meat in order to raise the moisture content to its legal maximum limit (a good way to make really tough steaks). I will buy my steaks at a good butcher that I know. The beef is all grass-fed and finished and on every package is the name and phone number of the rancher who raised the animal. I could even phone them to check on their methods if I wanted to. Perhaps I will also buy a cut-up rabbit as well. Still no luck with the Manhattan clam chowder, though.

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