Tuesday, May 06, 2014

You Can't Go Home Again

I had not eaten a Hostess Twinkie in at least 20 years. But recently, on an impulse, I bought a box, just to see what they tasted like, and to see how familiar they would be. In spite of intervening years and the change in ownership of the Hostess Bakeries, were they the same, familiar treat of my  youth?

No. The Twinkies in the box of 10 seemed smaller and more carelessly made than the Twinkies of my childhood. They didn't taste the same, and even the texture seemed less fluffy. The cake was more dense than I remembered.

Now, it has often been remarked that things we revisit after many years of absence seem smaller than we remember simply because we were smaller as children and now that we are grown, the house or uncle Fred seem to have shrunk by comparison.

Similarly, as kids, our taste buds were working much better than they do today, as we enter or near our retirement years.

The counterargument, though, is that while brand names are created to provide a familiar, dependable, known-quantity product, behind the scenes is a lot more variability that many consumers understand. For example, I once looked up the formula for a very popular, national brand of laundry detergent. (This was in a poison-control book to aid doctors when a kid had eaten a mouthful or two.) The formula was like this:

"Depending on region, ingredient cost, and availability, X laundry detergent contains:

  • [Name of one ingredient] 15% - 30%
  • [Name of another ingredient] 20%-45%
  • [Name of another ingredient] 8%-12%
  • [Name of another ingredient] 13%-28%"
In other words, the next time you buy a box of the same detergent, you might not be buying a box of the same detergent.

Another issue is the brand name itself. Remember Polaroid? Established brand, good reputation, trusted, etc. But the Polaroid camera and film company went bankrupt. But the Polaroid name was licensed to various manufacturers, resulting in Polaroid-branded batteries, light bulbs, DVD players, and so on. 

Similarly, Ipana toothpaste was a popular brand in the 1960s, but lost market share and was stopped in the 1970s. Then a few years ago, the brand name was licensed by another company and Ipana came back on the market. But was it the same toothpaste or a modern formulation?

Also similarly, Emerson radio ceased manufacture of DVD players, TVs, and so on, but licensed its brand name to Funai.

Finally, many manufacturers have their products designed and actually made by third parties or operate plants in foreign countries. Check the labels: That quintessential Japanese manufacturer, Sony, now markets products made in China.

So are Twinkies really different, or am I just different? Food for thought; something to chew on.


No comments:

Post a Comment