In 2014, Lost in the Supermarket was almost entirely about food trends and odd new products. In the new year, I may try to get back to sampling some of the old “ew”-stirring staples (like gefilte fish, pickled pigs’ feet and spotted dick) that inspired me to start the column initially. But for now, here are 10 things I learned in my past year in the supermarket:
1. Marketing efforts to attract Millennials are hilarious. One of my favorite Millennial-aimed products this year was food-flavored toothpaste. Crest’s “Be” toothpaste comes in mint chocolate, vanilla mint and lime spearmint flavors. But it’s not about the flavor — it’s all about the experience, man. From the press release: “The new toothpastes not only provide the foundational benefits needed for oral health but allow for an unexpected experience through flavors that offer personal expression.”
2. Companies tried to make birthday cake a flavor trend (à la pumpkin spice), but it never seemed to catch on, perhaps because “birthday cake” is pretty ambiguous. Look for Birthday Frosting-Filled Chips Ahoys and Birthday Cake M&Ms in your grocer’s clearance bin soon.
3. Ben and Jerry’s introduced a new line of Core ice creams, which feature a column of flavor down the middle and two separate flavors of ice cream on each side. The best, called “That’s My Jam,” has a raspberry jam “core,” plus raspberry ice cream with fudge chips on one side and chocolate ice cream on the other. In hindsight, writing a column about this was a very clever maneuver on my part to eat four pints of ice cream “for my job.”
4. Doritos are out of control. Taco Bell made a Doritos taco and Pizza Hut reportedly has a Doritos-crust pizza on the way. Just looking at all of the flavors Doritos now offers (Spicy Street Taco?! All Nighter Cheesburger?!) makes me want to hurl. But the company topped itself in sheer disgustingness with its role in the creation of a Doritos-flavored Mountain Dew (aka “Dewitos”). Mercifully, Dewitos is just in the experimental phase, rolled out as samples on college campuses, and is most likely just a cheap ploy to get people talking about Mountain Dew and Doritos on social media. I pray it doesn’t come to stores, because as the author of this column it would be my duty to taste it. I just hope Crest doesn’t join the fray and make a Doritos toothpaste.
5. Breakfast cereal makers masterfully walk a tightrope between appealing to parents with nutritional information splashed all over the packaging and attracting kids with products that seem more suited for dessert. As a result, the cereal aisle is a health-conscious stoner’s heaven right now, with offerings like Chocolate Toast Crunch, Reese’s Puffs and Hershey’s Cookies ’n’ Creme Cereal.
6. Over the past several years there have been frequent reports about imminent “revolutions” in the way we grocery shop, but I’ve yet to see them materialize. Scanners that can read everything in your grocery cart, add up the prices and let you “self-checkout” without going through any kind of line are the new jetpacks and sex robots. I guess I should just be happy most stores offer wet wipes to clean the germs off of your cart or basket before you start shopping.
7. I’m a sucker for Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest, where regular citizens submit new ideas for chip flavors, the company makes four of them and then the public votes on the best. It’s a very clever modern marketing scheme … and it gave me something to write about two years in a row. I even like that they throw in an especially odd flavor solely to get a grossed-out public to buzz about it online (this year it was a cappuccino chip). The 2014 winner (the creator of which gets a million bucks and her chips added to Lay’s regular rotation) was the right one — Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger.
8. Once relegated to the gourmet or health food section of the store, nut butters (like almond and cashew butter, as well as Nutella-rip-off chocolate variations) now have a fairly substantial presence in the peanut butter aisle. Mostly they’re delicious (and a good protein substitute for those who want to cut down or quit eating meat), but still way too expensive.
9. Instant coffee has experienced a resurgence, with Starbucks making the least gross version and other brands offering varying flavors for those who don’t have those extra three minutes in the morning to brew actual coffee. Still, instant coffee isn’t as bad as I remember it and I would now, after taste-testing a few, drink it in a pinch.
10. “In a pinch” has become a very common phrase in this column. As in, “In a pinch, if stranded in the mountains after a plane crash, I’d eat an Angus Beef Melt Hot Pocket before I’d eat my fellow passengers.”
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