Steve Burgess deals with the inevitable heartache that comes from relying on faraway strangers to feed you.
Capitalism can be cruel. We don’t need mobs of protesters pitching tents in public parks to figure that out. Bright young entrepreneurs bring their exciting new enterprises to market, only to be stabbed repeatedly by the Invisible Hand and left to bleed out in the ditch. Too late the would-be tycoon realizes that there is simply no demand for a better moose trap. Such lessons can come hard.
But what of the poor consumer? Few people pause to consider the shopper who finds a beloved product, only to realize that the love affair is about to die of retail neglect. And when the doomed product is central to one’s daily happiness it can be a real trauma. To put it another way: Post Foods discontinued my favourite breakfast cereal.
Nutritionally and habitually, breakfast cereal is number one. It’s the starter that turns the big engine. It practically sets the tone for the rest of the day. I have a couple of favourites, and I wait patiently for them to go on sale so I can fill entire cupboards with the good stuff – I don’t want to be caught short. And my favourite of favourites? Post Banana Nut Crunch. Crisp, not too sweet (companies always seem to make breakfast cereals way too sweet), with a pleasing textural variety. I never got tired of the stuff.
Then, one shocking day, on the familiar Safeway shelf: some sort of bogus bran buds. More ominously, the Banana Nut Crunch product tag had been removed. I found a stock boy who broke it to me: my old friend was gone. The sun had just set on my breakfast routine.
I felt so helpless. At last I truly understood the point made by Vancouver authors James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith in their oft-cited book about the 100-mile diet: this is what happens when you rely on faraway strangers to feed you. Then again, even if I could locally source the ingredients, it’s not like I had the Banana Nut Crunch recipe. I had become a slave to an industrial foodstuff.
Marketing can be a story of unrequited passion. What recourse do you have when it turns out your enthusiasm was not shared by a viable number of consumers? What if you absolutely loved the new version of Charlie’s Angels – someone must have – only to see it cruelly cancelled?
I used to hang out at the Apollo café in Vancouver at the corner of Broadway and Fir. One day I showed up to find the doors locked. I could see the staff scurrying about inside. It was not, as I hoped, a water leak. My old haunt was dead. We, the faithful consumers, are capitalism’s unnoticed victims.
I needed answers. Soon I was speaking to the friendly Sandra at the Post consumer info line. “So I went to the Safeway at Robson and Denman . . .” I began to explain.
“I’m in North Carolina, dear,” she said.
Sandra confirmed my worst fears: Banana Nut Crunch was definitely gone and it was not coming back. Apparently I was the anomaly; it simply never caught on with enough people. There’s a price to pay for being a rebel. “But you’re from Canada? You’ve got some stuff up there we don’t have. You have Shreddies.”
There are no Shreddies in the 50 states? “No, we don’t get those. Here at the Post headquarters we get to try them – we love them. Canadians are lucky.”
And Banana Nut Crunch? There must be some form of recourse for me? “You can’t really put cereal in the freezer,” Sandra muses. “It doesn’t work. Maybe just get your friends together for a last dinner.”
It’s a nice idea. And I do have a few boxes squirreled away. But if my friends cared enough about Banana Nut Crunch they’d have bought more of it and I wouldn’t be in this spot.
I’m not sharing.