My local supermarket is in the middle of a renovation, ripping up aisles and installing two things for which Ive no need: a sushi bar and a pharmacy. I understand the concept - you buy raw fish, then show up two days later for the prescription to get rid of the intestinal worms - but the renovation has buggered my mental template of the store. Everything is in a different place. The lobster tank is gone - so much for the Poor Mans Aquarium. The Old El Paso / Ortega brand-blocks for the pseudo-Mexican food (Nix-Mex, I like to call it) has been moved, as well as the single-serv cups of ancient fruit Gnat loves, as well as the tomato iterations (Diced, pureed, paste, stewed, chunked, whole, atomized, humiliated, minced). Its all fubared. Everyone wanders around the aisles with a beseeching look - speak to me, O pitted prunes, cry out that I might find thee! The staff has that haggard look that comes from being bothered SIXTY TIMES PER SHIFT about this pointless cock-up. Its enough to make me do my shopping at the stores corporate sister, Byerlys.
On the plus side: Byerlys has a particular brand of sausage I can get no where else. Its Abruzzi-style Authentic Italian sausage, made in far-off Ladysmith, Wisconsin. (Look for the shiny, foil-flecked package that makes the microwave spark when you defrost it.) On the minus side: cobblestone flooring in the meat aisle. I suppose they wanted that genuine outdoor-market atmosphere, although whod buy meat in an outdoor market Ive no idea. Ill take a pound of lamb, please, and if you could shave off the flies Id be much obliged. Its hell on the kids in the cart when you drive over the paving stones, too. Their eyes go in different directions.
Theres another reason to shop there, but its purely nostalgic and hence unreliable. They sell slices of ham in a package I remember from my Fargo childhood, from Hornbacher's SuperValu: instead of plastic wrap that lets you interrogate the ham itself, the package has a pale flat photo of a slice of ham surrounded by parsley, pierced by a round white bone. Quite unremarkable, but seeing it anew after all these years was startling at first, and then comforting. Somewhere in New Jersey or Nebraska is a company that's printed this ham centerfold for 30 years; it's all they do and they do it well. Two kids probably went to college on this picture. People in my demographic age suddenly trust this ham because the package reminds us of the safe sweet days when we were six, shopping with mom.
Although it makes you wonder why they have to cover up the actual real-time ham with a 1:1 sized photo of a slice of ham from the Johnson administration.
Grocery stores may be the last bastion of old product design; the smaller the company, the more likely its packaging hasnt changed in 30 years. Store around here still sell something called Janes Crazy Mixed-Up Salt - the very name tells you its from the mid-to-late 60s, when the vogue for neuroses and psychoanalysis made it hip to be wracked with psychological ailments. (Or its a reference to a bad Cash Flagg zombie movie: The Incredibly Mixed-Up Condiments Who Stopped Flowing and Became Clumped.) The containers fonts and design confirm your suspicions. Theres always a few left at the store. Ive never tried it. I have the suspicion that it will taste like, well, salt; if its seasoned salt I want, theres the Lawrys, with its Sinatra-era steak-house logo. If I wanted herbed-up salt, theres Mrs. Dash, in all her 36 indistinguishable varieties. But Im glad to see Janes hang around, and keep its simple, dated, ugly packaging. It must bring a smile to a 75-year old the way some product whose logo uses the Miami Vice font will please me in 2027.
Some small brands get icon status just by hanging on long enough to look hip - Old Bay seasoning, for example. It looked like Grampas cigarette pack for a few years, then it looked Retro enough to leap out at the consumer and say buy me, put me in the cupboard, never use me but feel clever that you have some. But most small brands are nondescript. They survive thanks to a loyal clientele, and a store buyer who wants to give the impression that you can find whatever you need at this emporium. If they have Janes, theyll have Minced Greek Pitted Olives in Carp Plasma.
Which brings us to the dairy case. Instapundit speculated on the reasons why Dew Fresh margarine had such quasi-retro packaging:
I DO THE SHOPPING (and, usually, the cooking) for our household, and I keep seeing this stuff in the dairy aisle. And it bothers me. "Dew Fresh" is a fine name -- but for margarine that by its nature never got close to a single drop of dew, unless you count condensation on a refrigeration line at the plant where it was made, this seems a bit much. Who are they kidding?
I also like the way it's wrapped in wax paper for that crude, handmade-by-struggling-dairy-farmers look, too. And that's a flower there between "Dew" and "Fresh," though the first time I glanced at it I thought it was an atom, which somehow would have been just surreal enough to work.
I wonder -- was there a design meeting where guys with spiky hair weighed the different possibilities? Hmm. What should it be: Foil for a futuristic look? A fake stone crock made of plastic? A squeeze tube? -- Until one guy suddenly had an inspiration and exclaimed, "Wax paper! Crudely printed wax paper! That's the look we're going for!" And everyone else gasped in amazement, and he was promoted to Executive Creative Director for Margarine.
I dont think its a marketing ploy. Dew Fresh appears to be made by the C. F. Sauer company of Richmond, VA, a privately held food company that has gathered a number of regional brands into its arms. Dew Fresh doesnt seem to be a flagship brand - its quite likely positioned as a brand aimed at people who need a large brick of margarine now, and are less concerned with brand identity than quantity. No one buys a slab of Dew Fresh to whittle off a tablespoon every other day. That's the original logo, I'd guess, and no one's given it any thought for 20 years.
Where Dew Fresh came from originally, I cant say, but the nation has a rich history of independent milk & butter producers. Most people can tell you what brand of milk they drank growing up. In Minneapolis, people stared at the happy 50s cow on the Polka Dot container - and youll still find Polka Dot at Byerlys, next to the albino bladders of the house brand milk and the upscale vitamin-infused Land OLakes brand. I grew up with Cass-Clay, and here again we have a fine example of a brand whose logo attained that retro-hip charm simply by sticking around. I remember the container you see above. I stared at it every morning. Cass-Clay meant milk long before I learned what the name meant. (Cass and Clay are the counties in which Fargo and its Minnesota conjoined-twin city Moorhead are located.) They still have the same logo. They're not stupid.
Milk, butter, potato chips: the last redoubt of regional brand identity. Soda once belonged to this category, but the nationals have won that round, alas, and thats a loss few lament. Too bad. You haven 't experienced America in all its glories and delights unless youve dismounted from your truck in a small Southern town, walked a glass bottle of Nehi from the cooler and knocked it back, right there. An Illinois resident skilled in the art of mixed drinks knew that Canfield Ginger Ale had a quality unmatched by its Canadian overlord.
Three words: Nesbitts Orange Soda.
Youve no idea.
I collect empty soda bottles - which should surprise no one, I guess - and while some are just obvious 7-Up knockoffs, the others are mysterious. My favorite bottle is a small clear flask with black letters: DREAM
Thats it: DREAM. The word pierces a black-bordered cloud. On the back, the painted text reads: Drink Dream. Everyones . . . . Anytime. Ingredients on Crown. Bottled under license of THE DREAM COMPANY, Los Angeles California.
The ingredients were on the bottle cap, which everyone tossed away. The recipe for DREAM is lost: O cruel irony. But the container survives; you can hold it up to the light, wonder what color it contained. You can fill it with water and feel the heft of six and a half ounces of DREAM. It was made in Los Angeles, California, the United States of America.
Of course. Where else?