It’s a dark day in the world of mayonnaise. Companies are faced all the time with the dilemma: Raise the price or cut the amount? Sometimes they choose one, and sometimes the other, but never both! Or so it was until now, with the folks at Hellman’s Mayonnaise.
A few days ago, I went shopping, and one of the “food groups” we were out of was mayonnaise. As it was for my mom, and earlier for her mom, in my home, “mayonnaise” is synonymous with “Hellman’s.”
For years, excepting for sales, I’ve bought Hellman’s one 32 oz. jar at a time at the local Waldbaum’s. And for a few years now, that 32 oz. bottle has sold for $3.33. Due to Waldbaum’s greed, I’ve never bought the 48 oz. jar. Whenever I checked the big jar, it would always sell for $4.99, the same per ounce price as the smaller jar, meaning that Waldbaum’s makes a bigger profit, while my brood is left with mayonnaise in greater danger of spoiling, before we finish it. Waldbaum’s apparently banks on shoppers not doing the math.
The last time I’d bought Hellman’s, it was on sale, either “buy one, get one free,” or for $2 each, as a promotion for the new canola oil-based mayo, which also contains the oils “omega 6 and omega 3 ALA” lalala. (Reader Gary Hyde has complained that the new, "healthy" Hellman's doesn't taste as rich as the "bad" old Hellman's.)
Granted, I didn’t notice then whether they’d switched the bottles. Now they have, to a 30 oz. jar. And the difference between raising the price 26 cents on a 32 oz. jar and raising it the same amount, while cutting two ounces out of the jar, is the difference between a 7.8 percent, and a 15 percent price hike.
Some readers will doubtless say, “You’re complaining about a lousy 15 percent price hike, after all this time? You have too much free time on your hands.”
First of all, anyone who says that a writer has too much time on his hands, had better keep all the mirrors covered. At least the writer is doing what he thinks is important. But his critic is wasting his time on what he claims is worthless. (Pre-emptive strikes are not only permitted in writing, they are practically required.)
Besides, 15 percent is only the beginning. Sufficiently emboldened, the folks at Hellman’s parent company, Unilever, might next take a page from soft drink makers' playbook, and reduce the jar size yet again, to 24 ounces. If Unilever did that while maintaining the same price, it would constitute a 25 percent per ounce price increase (from 11.97 to 14.96 cents). But Unilever would be sorely tempted to again raise the price, as well. (Perhaps they’d re-run the sort of promotion for the first new bottles, that they did with the new canola mayo, before raising the price.) If Unilever raised the price to, say, $3.99 for a 24-ounce jar, that would constitute a 38.6 percent price hike over $3.59 for 30 ounces. Let the cynics laugh that one off!
Don’t say you weren’t warned.
I realize that Unilever has a right to make a profit, and indeed, must make one, if it wishes to stay in business. But I also have a right to publicly carp about how it goes about its business, to limit my purchases and thus use of its product, and even to stop buying mayonnaise. That would mean no longer making my world-famous (well, famous within my brood, anyway) tuna salad, with the chopped apples, celery, onions and garlic, but choices have consequences.
Alternatively, I could try my hand at making mayonnaise. (Those of you trying this at home, be extremely careful. You’re using raw eggs, which contaminate very easily, and which, when contaminated, can have grave, even lethal effects on the human body.)
Painful though price hikes are, there’s even more at stake here. Until a couple of years ago, Hellman’s always came in a jar, with a distinctive, blue-and-white steel lid. Then the company switched to all plastic. I could rationalize the plastic jar, since there was virtually no danger of it smashing, if you dropped it, but a dull, blue, plastic lid? And now, canola oil? If I were – if you’ll pardon my French – so goshdarned concerned about my health, I wouldn’t use mayonnaise, in the first place!
Certain products not only give us pleasure – Hellman’s tastes so much better than any other mayo, there’s just no comparing them – but they also give our lives continuity. And that is especially true of those of us (i.e., most of us) who worship the idols of a consumer culture.
The folks at Unilever had better take care, lest they fall into the Maxwell House trap, and decide that people don’t really appreciate differences in quality ingredients, as opposed to clever marketing ploys.
For those of my readers too young to recall, Maxwell House was for several years America’s most popular brand of coffee. But then its executives got greedy, and decided they’d goose the bottom line not by increasing sales and/or cutting unnecessary costs, but by cheating on bean quality. Apparently, they figured, no one would know the difference. An aggressive upstart named Folger’s came along to fill the void – with better beans and a great advertising jingle!
For a contemporary example, in the world of espresso grind, aka “black” coffee, the folks at Rowland Coffee Roasters, in Miami, which owns Medaglia D’Oro, are currently going through one of their own periodic seizures of greed and contempt for their customers, and have forsaken proper quality control. Thus, a few bad beans are getting ground into some cans, in each case spoiling the entire can of coffee. As a result, for the second time in 15 years, I have stopped buying their coffee.
Careful now, Unilever.
Folks, this is not your grandma’s Hellman’s.