April 20, 2014

Perversity and food labels

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Marketing — by xrematon @ 2:41 pm
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Having had the opportunity to immerse myself in reading zillions of articles and reports about food labels over the past couple of months, there’s more to them than I realised. I am, admittedly, starting from a low base of knowledge and interest. Until this research project I never looked at labels. I am guilty both of complacency (I am confident I know enough about the good and bad stuff that can be found in food), and smugness (I tend to cook from scratch and unpre-packed food (till now) has not been labelled up in the way packaged food is).

So what’s make me inspired to write a post about food labels? Well, it’s to do with a new (voluntary) combined GDA-traffic light system being launched by the Department of Health. The hope is that the scheme will be widely adopted and thus provide much needed consistency and reduce confusion.

The spotlight will be on salt, sugar, fat and calories. It is undeniable these are important, but looking at only these gives a narrow view of what the food is about, which can lead to some perverse thinking. Nutritionists have carried out analysis of typical foods and found that olives and cheddar cheese come out with lots of red lights on their label, whilst Diet Coca Cola would score straight greens all the way through. As might be expected, there is a suitably incendiary Daily Mail article entitled “Why traffic light labels on food will make us all fatter AND ruin our farmers”.

Reading all this inspired me to go on a mission to find the worst kind of food possible. I don’t think I have found it yet, but I have discovered that crisps are a particularly good category for playing around with juggling different health goals. For those who worry about saturated fat, then it makes sense to go for low fat options, such as these Pop Chips. However, they are not a straightforward “good choice” as to make up for the poor quality taste experience that often comes with lower fat, the salt content is upped. Per 100g, there’s 14.1g of fat (relatively low) but 0.79g of sodium (relatively high).

Pop chips

Compare that to these Tyrells crisps, which are only lightly salted, which would be pleasing to some, but they are definitely high fat. Per 100g, there’s 24.4g of fat and 0.2g of sodium.

Tyrells crisps

This brings me to my worst food – a packet of own label crisps from Tesco. They are the posh sort – hand cooked and nicely high fat and high salt. Its their flavour that makes them special: salt and cider vinegar. The latter means they actually come up red for sugars. And boy, do they taste good.


Now you know what to look for in food labels.


December 10, 2012

Harris and Hoole

Filed under: Business,Customer Service,Marketing — by xrematon @ 9:56 pm

Two old Etonian friends of David Cameron? Or perhaps a new Cbeebies series?

No, it’s the name of a coffee shop that has recently opened in my neck of the woods. Normally, I wouldn’t assume that the arrival of a coffee shop is worth writing about, but it just so happens that this one is part-owned by Tesco, who are finding new ways to dominate our streets and increase their share of our spending.

Here are some more practical details about the venture. The new coffee chain, named Harris and Hoole after coffee-loving characters in Samuel Pepys’ diary, will not display any information to inform customers that the company is up to 49%-owned by Tesco. The chain is being run by the Australian siblings behind the upmarket London coffee shops Taylor Street. Nick, Andrew and Laura Tolley, who set up Taylor Street in 2006, will own the majority of the shares in Harris and Hoole.

Clearly, this was too good to resist and I have been to experience H&H for myself. Firstly, I must declare that an important aspect of what the founders are focussing on will be completely lost on me – they are keen to offer people the very best coffee (specially chosen beans, carefully grown and roasted etc etc), and I drink tea.

However, the design and atmosphere were still up for review. The décor, as described in one write-up , is

‘very much contemporary, urban, ‘shabby chic’ with stripped wooden floors and bookcases, reclaimed wooden tabletops, and industrial ceiling detail. The open kitchen, to the rear of the unit, is edged with modern black and white glazed tiles.’

It definitely did feel quite shabby, especially as they have kept the original ceiling (with damaged stucco detail) and ceramic tiles (punctured by butcher’s hooks) – which gives it all an element of randomness with genuine and manufactured character.

And the vibe – well, the place was surprisingly full, and made me realise there is a more diversity in Amersham than I thought. There were the obligatory ‘ladies who lunch’ (or rather do coffee after dropping off kids), and the comfortable retirees. But there were also other representatives of society I would be more likely to find in central London than in a small commuter town – young professionals alone or in groups, busy meeting in their ‘third space’, complete with Macs and the like. All in all, it felt rather buzzy and energetic –and serene and relaxing are the adjectives I would normally associate with Chilterns establishments.

I solicited opinions from my companions accompanying me on this trip. I got some much more practical responses. Apparently, it’s quite nice to feel like you have been transported into ‘happening East London’, but the fact remains the cost of a cup of coffee is noticeably pricier than in other local coffee places.

For the moment, it looks like Harris and Hoole are keen to be welcomed by their community. In their tweets, they say nice things to the other local coffee shops whose fortunes they are now putting under strain, and they have put a blackboard where people can write up local events and activities. I will be interested to see if it will ever get to the H&H one year anniversary party in December 2013.

June 16, 2012

Balancing pleasure and payment

Filed under: Consumer Trends,Marketing — by xrematon @ 10:00 pm
Tags: , ,

Having assiduously saved up Tesco Club Card vouchers over the course of more than a year, I have managed to get Legoland annual passes for all the family. As a result, I seem to be spending rather a lot of weekends swooping and squealing in Windsor. Thanks to the pass, and the fact we bring a picnic when we go, going to Legoland feels like a cheap day out, in particular as the weather has been so bad we have been able to avoid the siren call of ice creams.

But I have been struck how it would be easy to pay a lot of money for a day out at the resort. I did some quick calculations, and assuming we would want to make the most of our time there and so paid for all the different extras to avoid wasting time, the total could reach a staggering £500! The tickets would set you back £150, a tenner to be able to park the car close to the entrance, an additional £240 for the whizzy little QBot devices which means that none of the family has to wait to go on a ride (though admittedly this only covers about half of the rides). Then there is lunch, as well as some ice creams and hot dogs as they are so hard to resist with the kiosks dotted close to most rides and in the space where you queue. And then there is the dryer after getting soaked on Pirate Slash.

This scenario is perhaps a bit extreme and, to be fair, there are attempts to balance the payment opportunities with pleasure – some rides have screens installed in the areas where you wait, or there are Duplo bricks to play with. And then there are shows which you don’t need to queue for.

However, a day out at Legoland is likely to be pretty pricey, and it makes me think that most people must find a way of reducing the cost as we have done. For example, advance booking online drops the ticket price by up to 40%, it’s not hard to find other discounts or vouchers online and bringing one’s own food reduces further possible outlay.

Consumers have been living in ‘austerity’ for several years now and have become wise to these little tricks. According to research from The Futures Company 58% of UK consumers agree that ‘Since the recession I feel a greater need to be as self-sufficient as possible’.

My final word – to beat the queues, the biggest help has been the rubbish weather. My best Legoland experience was when we didn’t get there till 3pm and it was rainy and cold. By 5pm, not only were the queues very short, for some rides, we were the only customers, and they were put into operation for us alone, which to me, is the height of theme park decadence!

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