A Packaging Pickle
Ann is not infirm. Nor am I. But sometimes we need help. We have opposable thumbs and we have learned how to use tools.
I’m perfectly capable of opening a book, magazine or newspaper. At times I must lick the tips of my index finger and thumb. Boxes are generally easy. Sometimes we use a retractable knife. CDs and LPs usually have a seam in the cellophane. Breaking the factory seal on the lid of a bottle or a jar can be more problematic. Sometimes I wear a rubber glove to enhance my grip; sometimes Ann employs an adjustable wrench. A rusting “church key,” an old-fashioned bottle and can opener is forever utile. Blister packs are aptly named.
I love pickles. Seasoned with garlic and dill, preserved in brine. Pickles are versatile, condiments, garnishes or sides. The best pickles in the marketplace are a brand called Strub’s. These sour babies aren’t grocery aisle goods, none of that “refrigerate after opening” stuff. No, they ship chilled and must be displayed for sale in a cooler in the delicatessen or meat department. Strub’s is the elite of commercial pickles, the Platonic ideal of a baby cucumber.
Ann and I have never had a serious disagreement, except maybe over pickles. She likes those sweet, bread-and-butter slices, mixed jars with cauliflower and, God help me, gherkins. C’mon. They look nice enough on a hors d’oeuvre tray I suppose, beside bites of sausage and cheese. A member of my high school clique used to refer to his penis as his gherkin, and, you know, blue balls and all, I never thought Catholic girls would go for a tiny, shrivelled green thing. I will never get past that image.
When I was fully engaged in the advertising industry and social media hadn’t yet reached its permanent state of the terrible twos, one of my agency’s clients, a snack food manufacturer, desperately wanted in on the evolving digital conversation. Naivety suited this western Canadian company. They couldn’t quite grasp that they’d opened a forum for complaints as opposed to compliments despite having accumulated years of warm, down-home brand equity. In my experience, silence was always the ultimate accolade; nobody could be bothered enough to bitch and moan, and who would waste their time on the positive, a testimonial.
I don’t engage with consumer brands on Facebook because I don’t want advertising popping up on my friends’ news feeds implying an endorsement, “Geoff Moore likes this.” And yet, these companies seek feedback. The savvy ones understand that solicited kudos don’t constitute consumer outreach. The truly important information is each and every criticism, meaning that a dozen other diatribes were left unwritten, unsent.
Ann and I have written askance to Bick’s, bemused by its decision to stop making onion relish. That stuff combined with a Strub’s pickle on a bratwurst, hot dog or hamburger was just, oh my God. Ocean Spray no longer brews up Cran-Ruby, a cocktail or fruit beverage which did not constitute a juice designation. I fumed, but couldn’t be bothered to complain. These past six months I’ve not been able to find diet Dr. Pepper anywhere and so I hesitate to enjoy the 500 mL bottle on the door of our fridge because it could very well be the last of its kind. I haven’t got around to sending the company a note.
Strub’s has changed its packaging. Its pickles no longer come in jars but squat plastic tubs. The new format is something of a breakthrough. The new containers may be reused for leftovers or lunches, Rubbermaid or Ziploc style. They tuck away nicely in our fridge. But they’re almost impossible to open. Ann and I have tried knives, pliers and third parties – visitors from a covid cohort household.
The other day Ann said, “I’m writing to Strub’s.”
The reply from Canada’s Eastern Time Zone awaited Ann when we awoke the next morning. The trick, illustrated by five photographs, is to utilize the wrong end of a teaspoon as a lever. The label on a tub does not mention this pro tip. Safety tip: NEVER USE A KNIFE! Saints preserve us, the e-mail reply also contained a link to a YouTube instructional video. Clocking in at less than ten seconds, it is more informative than the average Ted Talk.
People generally don’t sweat pickles unless they’re in one or preserve them. Strub’s is presenting as a responsible company. Strub’s is attempting to reduce the weight of its packaging, make it less fragile – shipping and logistical issues - and reusable. Like its products, innovation can be bumpy. Strub’s initiative, beta flawed as it is, isn’t quite as modest as it appears. Excessive and disposable packaging in the food industry, driven by shelf presence and safety concerns, has long been an environmental bugaboo. True, jars are recyclable and may be reused to store nails, screws and nuts and bolts, but the rule of thumb when I worked in the grocery business was that one damaged item in a case, a broken jar, a dented tin, erases the entire resale margin on the remainder. So, progress, of a sort, modern times.
meGeoff has been your most unreliable, unbalanced and inaccurate alternative source of consumer complaint since 2013. My novella Of Course You Did is available. Visit www.megeoff.com to find your preferred format and retailer.