Al Peck's new gig

Almost Perfect Frozen Food Outlet

Almost Perfect‘s website says that they concentrate on producer overstocks and not, as you might think from the name, pre-loved or refurbished food. The food here has not been previously enjoyed or lady-eaten, and you’re not walking into a store filled with seconds and remnants.

This picture is of their Peterborough location (which stands directly across the street from fireplace store Friendly Fires), but fear not big-city dwellers: they do have a Toronto location.

No word on whether the Circus Lupus tickets are still available:

Supermarket Finds: Code 4651

Individually labelled mushrooms from Loblaws

While I recognize that memorizing all of those codes can be difficult for cashiers and it can’t be easy telling whether that bag of apples has a dozen galas or fujis, I think that painstakingly tagging every individual mushroom in the store is going a little overboard. Not only do labels not stick to mushrooms all that well, but I can’t imagine that it’s very efficient to pay some poor stocker to sit over boxes of mushrooms all day long with a label gun. And as with all tagged produce, the worst part is standing in the kitchen removing all of the labels. Good thing those printed codes save me five seconds in line; I can apply that time to the two minutes I have to spend standing over the cutting board de-labelling a bag of shiitakes.

I try to avoid my local Loblaws whenever possible, but occasionally it’s just too convenient to pass up. I never fail to be surprised by something there, and today was no different. At least they don’t shrink-wrap as much of their produce as the local Sobeys does.

Bi-products revisited

Not content to let sleeping yogs bi, I decided to ask Metro if the “bi-products” label meant something other than what it seemed to. The emailed response from customer care came in this morning:

The Merchandising Team informs me of the following:

“Bi-products” would indicate Milk Bi-products which both Yogurt and Cottage cheese are. Some stores may have yogurt or Cottage cheese or Sour Cream or all. The layout of the counter in every store is unique based on counter size, set size and of course our customers’ needs.

So there you have it. Misspelled or otherwise, there’s nothing more to the sign than “milk leftovers.” Now I have to visit the meat department to see how they label the ground beef and sausages.

Supermarket finds: Bi-products

Would you like a delicious bi-product for breakfast?


Can someone tell me which marketing genius at Metro thought it would be a good idea to have a whole section of the supermarket prominently labelled “Bi-Products”? Besides seeming wrong on at least two levels, it manages to be both meaningless and off-putting. “Yogurt” is pretty clear. But “Bi-Products”? I thought maybe I was missing some obvious marketing push, but a Google search for “Bi-products” just brings up a lot of what you’d expect, including a site offering buffalo skulls (green or boiled), jaw bones, or feet, all “bi-products” of buffalo ranching. Oh, and a lot of fluff about business intelligence, too.

In a food world where “by-product” generally means “stuff that we’d normally throw away because it’s disgusting and inedible, but we found a way to grind it up and sell it to you anyway,” why does Metro think that “Bi-Products” is a good label for premium yogourt?

An aseptic life

When I was young, the stories of so-called bubble boys were considered to be tragedies, living without contact with the outside world because contact with the germs could kill them. These days, living as a bubble boy is a lifestyle choice for some.

The plastics industry recently released a study (PDF) under the alarming headline “Reusable grocery bags may pose public health risk.” Yikes. But just a second here, this doesn’t really pass the smell test.

Just a few short weeks ago, the plastics industry was extolling the virtues of plastic bags: they’re the most environmentally friendly choice, so practical and extensively recycled that they form the very foundation of Western civilization. Hell, they even recommend  that we all “Say YES to reus[ing]” plastic bags! That Big Plastic has suddenly changed its tune from “we’re so good” to “they’re so bad” is telling, and is a real sign of desperation. I’m glad to see that the plastics industry is stooping to this kind of FUD in a last attempt to scare people into using disposable bags.

Just how FUDdy is the plastics industry’s shrieking on this matter? Well, their study claims an “elevated bacterial count of 1,800 colony-forming units (CFU)” on a 16 square inch sample of a reusable bag. Sounds bad. But what does that really mean in context? Well, for starters, the study compares the bacteria level on reusable bags to the safe level in drinking water. That’s pretty pointless seeing as bags (reusable or not) are not drinking water. But let’s play along anyway.

In particular, the study claims that the level of 1,800 CFU is “three times the level of 500 CFU considered safe per millilitre of drinking water.” That is factually true, but one millilitre is not a lot of water: it’s about a fifth of a teaspoon. So a single teaspoon of drinking water can have as many as 2,500 CFU and still be considered safe. A whole cup of water? More than 117,000 CFU and it’s still safe. So to put a different interpretation on their own study, a cup of safe, filtered, potable water may contain sixty-five times the bacteria count found on their scariest, dirtiest reusable bag. Rinsing that bag off would stand a good chance of making it dirtier. Maybe drinking that reusable bag wouldn’t be so bad after all.

The rest of their comparisons are equally suspect: mould on the surface of the bag is compared to mould per cubic metre of air; coliforms on the bag (5) are compared to the recommended level in a millilitre of drinking water (0) instead of the safe level in Ontario (5 per 100 ml from a well). And so on, and so on.

It’s difficult to take anything in the paper seriously, and it’s too bad that none of the mainstream media outlets that reported on the paper really took the author or the industry to task. Most of them chose instead to merely rewrite the press release’s lurid headline and repeat the claims without providing any context. Everyone involved here ought to be ashamed: the plastics industry for commissioning the paper, the researcher for putting his name to this disgraceful and alarmist tripe, and the reporters for not raising a critical eyebrow. Adapt or die, all of you.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been using the same two reusable bags at the grocery store and farmers’ market for about 6 years now. They’ve never been washed. Are they covered in bacteria? Almost certainly. But so is everything else in the world. Unless you’re lucky enough to be a bubble boy.

The death of logos #1

The warmer weather of the last few weeks means that I’ve resumed my lunchtime explorations of Mount Pleasant Cemetery. One thing I’ve been noticing is that some people’s monuments are marked by the logos or wordmarks of the companies they ran, owned, or founded. The first example is W. Garfield Weston, son of eponymous company founder George Weston.

Garfield Weston's monument in Mount Pleasant Cemetery

Weston's wordmark on a bakery in Toronto

Supermarket finds: Diet water

Compliments Diet Water

This bottle represents everything that’s wrong with the food chain these days. It’s not just the general waste and unnecessary expense of bottled water, but the fact that companies have somehow managed to convince people to buy diet water. This is by no means the only diet water option on the shelves, I’m just picking on it because it’s explicitly labelled as diet water. And judging by the diet water shelves of my local supermarkets, diet water is one of the faster-growing food segments.

In a few short years, companies have convinced people that they need to drink water from little disposable bottles. But that’s not good enough, so they need flavoured bottled water. And with flavour almost certainly comes sugar or some other sweetener. And something to act as a preservative. And carbonated beverages sell better, so let’s make it all fizzy. And what you end up with is essentially indistinguishable from pop. I haven’t yet seen caffeine-free diet water advertised, but it’s only a matter of time.

Of course, the only problem with selling diet water is that water is naturally calorie-free, and it’s only because of all the crap that water manufacturers (there’s a phrase our parents would never have heard) are putting into their product that they now feel the need to make dubious health claims. Diet water indeed.  What started out as a healthy choice (water instead of pop or other processed drinks) has now been so corrupted by the drawers of water that the healthy choice has become indistinguishable from the unhealthy choice. Just how similar the two products are is made clear by the ingredients list:

Compliments Diet Raspberry Sparkling Water:

carbonated water, citric acid, potassium citrate, natural flavour, aspartame, potassium benzoate, acesulfame potassium, and malic acid.

Diet Sprite:

carbonated water, citric acid, natural flavo[u]rs, potassium citrate, and potassium benzoate, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium.

So, uh, what’s the difference between diet water and diet pop? Why bother?

But seriously, who needs diet water? Apparently, the people who drink Compliments (non-diet) flavoured water do: it has 90 calories per serving.

Me, I prefer good old Toronto Tap in refillable containers. When I want that extra shot of flavour, I use an old family water recipe: boil 2 cups of water, pour over tea leaves into a small pot. Steep for five minutes. Serve while hot. De-lish.

Supermarket finds: Two of my favourite things

Bacon and Chocolate

All my life I’ve dreamed about combining chocolate and bacon. In fact, I’m fairly certain that I mentioned that very desire to Risa just last week. As if reading my mind, a co-worker returned from Texas on Monday with a Mo’s Bacon Bar to share with the office. Amazingly (to me, anyway), it’s made with real bacon and has no added flavours.

The verdict: mixed. The chocolate isn’t bad, but the salty bacon aftertaste left me yearning for a couple of eggs, over easy. It’s not really suited for an afternoon snack, but this could be a pretty good breakfast chocolate bar. I imagine it melted over a pair of eggs and squished between a couple of slices of toast. Chocolatey heart attack heaven!

Supermarket finds: Swiss Navy mints

Swiss Navy Strong Mints box

The Swiss Army may get all the glory with its knives and bicycles, but the Swiss Navy—which presumably patrols the dangerous waters of Lake Geneva—has really fresh breath and ranks among the better-lubricated armed forces in the world. I bet they wear Saskatchewan seal skin coats while on patrol.

I don’t really have anything else to report about these mints. I just love the idea of products named after the landlocked Swiss Navy and couldn’t resist picking these out of the impulse display at the cashier. I’m such an easy marketing target.