Supermarket finds: Fake milk

Fake food, get your fake food here

Chocolate dairy beverage? Grated dairy product? Frozen dessert? Isn’t anything made with milk, cheese, or cream any more? I hate to sound like a grouchy old man (though I’m rapidly becoming one), but when I was a kid, these things were called chocolate milk, grated cheese, and ice cream. Instead, more and more items in the dairy case have “modified milk ingredients” at the top of the ingredients list. It makes me wonder where all of the real dairy products go.

Of course, these products are not exactly new, having been around in one form or another for a few years. They are clearly part of the accelerating trend in the grocery store to pass off fake food as the real thing.

I didn’t buy either the dairy beverage or the frozen dessert, so I can’t review their taste. But I didn’t notice that the “grated dairy product” wasn’t actual cheese until I got home, so I can review that: it was so salty that it was inedible. Other than the texture, a dash of Silani grated dairy product on some pasta was basically indistinguishable from emptying a box of salt onto the plate. Even the Loblaws No Name Parmesan is superior.

While most “food” manufacturers take pains to hide the fact that they’re hiding the facts from you, Beatrice was notable for positively trumpeting the non-milkiness of their dairy beverage:

Beatrice Chocolate Dairy Beverage

The text in the red circle says that it’s made with real milk “and added dairy ingredients.” It sounds about as appetizing as eating a burger made from beef and added cow ingredients. Beatrice may have learned its lesson after a few years of trying to sell this stuff and returned to selling chocolate milk again earlier this year.

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?

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.

Supermarket finds: Beyond The Orchard apple slices

Beyond the orchard apples

Compliments Beyond The Orchard Apple Slices (pictured above right with an unprocessed Pink Lady for comparison) are the most wastefully-packaged food product I’ve ever seen. It’s part of the Compliments Junior Disney line of prepared foods from Sobeys, which is supposed to feature “healthier, tasty, and fun foods that are designed specifically for kids.” You know it’s good if it’s in a package and Disney says it’s tasty! Although the CJD (hmm, where have I seen that acronym before?) line-up includes some prepackaged fruit and vegetables, it’s quite heavy on processed convenience foods like frozen pancakes, “Mickey Burgers,” pizza, and so on. The idea is to appeal to picky eaters. Hey, here’s an idea: why not serve real food instead of frozen pizza? Most kids of my generation think that frozen pizza sucks, and for good reason: it does suck. No amount of branding will ever change that. But frozen pizza is a whole other post.

I first saw Beyond the Orchard apple slices in the local Sobeys in early January, but didn’t see it again until mid-March. They’ve been in stock steadily since then, so presumably people are buying them. This package­­­­—a plastic box containing five individual sealed wrappers—contains just 285 grams of sliced apples, equivalent to about one and a half regular-sized apples. Each package contains seven very small apple wedges that together represent about one quarter of an apple. While I understand that this product may appeal to parents with young children who only eat half an apple or less at a sitting, it simply doesn’t excuse the overpackaging. If your children can’t (or won’t) eat a whole apple, then buy smaller apples or slice up an apple and eat half yourself. If the kids don’t like apples, try something else. Why does every problem have to be solved by plastic these days?

Ready-to-eat applesThe apple variety isn’t identified on the packaging, but they look like Fuji or Royal Gala. It’s hard to tell because they taste a little off, with a distinct non-apple chemical aftertaste. The odd taste must come from the processing or packaging, although the ingredients list  shows only apples and calcium ascorbate as a preservative. I actually feel sorry for kids who grow up thinking that apples come in little plastic packages and taste like this. Would I buy it again? Never. I didn’t even really want to buy it this time, but scientific curiosity carried the day.

Amusingly, each of the little packages carries a “ready to eat” label. Yeah, unlike regular apples that require hours of preparation.

(Quick note to the eagle-eyed: Yes, the best-before date on the package is March 24, and no, that doesn’t account for the odd taste of the apples. I conducted my taste test around March 20, and have only just gotten around to writing it up and assembling the pictures.)

Supermarket finds: Hard-boiled edition

Naturegg hardboiled eggs

The first time I saw them in the supermarket, I was a little put off by the very thought of Naturegg hard-boiled eggs. I mean really, who needs to buy hard-boiled, peeled eggs at the supermarket? How lazy do you have to be? But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. If you’re the kind of person who likes to have an egg or two at lunch every day but just can’t bring yourself to prepare a dozen ahead of time on Sunday night, you could do much worse in terms of a convenience food.

The package is nice enough when you look at the label, but picking it up is another matter. I don’t know if you’ve ever held one of these, but let me assure you that holding two hard-boiled eggs in a small plastic bag feels a lot like holding a pair of testicles. The sensation doesn’t exactly make it appetizing for me; of course, your mileage may vary. It doesn’t help that eggs in a little bag are probably the saddest-looking food you’ll see in the store.

Once removed the package, the eggs are fine. My pair was a little squished out of perfect egg shape, but otherwise looked, felt, and tasted just like Mom used to make. Better than homemade? Certainly easier, but not so much that I’d buy them again for the once in a blue moon that I’d use them. I just don’t think it’s so hard to boil and shell eggs that I’d want to keep a bag of these in the fridge.