Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Cost of Lunch.

Last weekend we made tomato sauce out of some of those really fine Roma like cooking tomatoes (Viva Italia) we’ve been giving out in the shares for the past week.

And since we made more than we could eat in a week we decided to ‘put it up’

That means it was time to haul out the canning equipment.  The big kettle for heating up and boiling water.  Find and wash a couple dozen pint canning jars.

Dig out of the corner of the pantry a dozen large mouth bands  (those are the things that screw on the top, holding down the lids).

And go out to the local IGA and buy new lids  (we don’t reuse our old lids or try to save money by buying lids at a discount store because, as Wenonah says, it doesn’t pay to cut corners.

“When using old or cheap lids there is always the chance that along the way they might have been bent, nicked or somehow deformed.  I’m always worried that an old lid, or for that matter a cheap new one might not seal properly.

“And just because I want to save a few pennies I end up ruining my tomatoes and wasting all of the time and labor that went into canning, not to mention not having those tomatoes to eat over the winter.”

A great example of the foolishness of bargain hunting  (I know I’m stepping on shaky ground here, almost unAmerican territory) at the expense of getting something that will accomplish what you are trying to do.

I mean what good is it to buy something that doesn’t work even if it is cheaper.

Flower vases  that are cheap that don’t hold water

Oil that doesn’t lubricate your engine.

Vegetable seeds that don’t germinate.

Vitamins that have no vitamins

Cars that don’t run.

Or in the case of canning lids.  Canning lids that do not seal.

About the same time I was at the IGA pulling down from the top shelf the canning lids one of Wenonah’s friends was also putting up tomatoes.  But instead of going to the IGA she had a number of things she needed and anyway,  Walmart is cheaper, right?  And besides all the knock offs they also carry the brand name products, but at a lower price.

And doesn't everyone after all, in their heart of hearts, want a bargain,  whether they need it or not?

And since there were a number of things she needed besides the lids she decided to go to Walmart.  After all,  Walmart carries  brand name lids,  and she would be saving a little bit of money (not that her friend needs to cut corners by buying cheaper canning lids).

So she went to Walmart and bought her canning lids,  her Walmart organic milk (Walmart is now the world’s largest dealer in organic food)  She might have even bought oil for her car  and since it is used as an example of the dangers a company runs into when having Walmart sell their product,  a large jar of pickles.  (recently a large pickle company went bankrupt after being romanced with the idea of expanding their sales by having their product distributed through Walmart.  It turned out, after a number of years of expanded production and severe cost shearing they were actually selling large numbers of pickles through Walmart at a loss which eventually led to bankruptcy).

But we were talking about canning lids.

These lids are made by one of the leading companies in the world for canning lids.  A company with a name that’s synonymous with quality.  Actually the same brand as I bought at the IGA only Wenonah’s friend bought her’s for less at Walmart.

(If this was a movie  this would be the time where the music started getting more ominous).

She finished her shopping.  Saved her dimes and quarters.  Drove home  Told her husband that the oil he wanted was out in the car,   put the large jar of pickles in the pantry.  The 'organic' milk in   the refrigerator.

And started working on her tomatoes.

Several hours later she was finished.  The tomatoes sitting on the counter in their jars,  cooling and waiting for that tell tale popping sound of the lids sealing.    

And in the morning  she was still waiting for some of those jars to seal..  It turned out that about a fifth,  20% of her jars never sealed.

And all of that time she had spent on them was wasted.

Now go back and look at our picture on the facebook page..

We didn't put up  as many tomatoes as the friend  but we didn't have to wait until the morning, either,  to know whether our jars had sealed.

All of our jars sealed.  Just a few moments before I walked into the kitchen to take the picture there was a popping sound.

Pop, Pop, Pop.  All seven jars sealed.

So what went wrong with the friend's jars?  Why did our's seal and her's didn't?

There’s an interesting book I listened to while driving vegetables last season.  The Wal-mart Effect.

Of the many interesting facts in the book one in particular does a good job of explaining what went wrong.

Of the many things Walmart does to bring its customers constantly lower prices explains what happened to those lids.

Not only did the lids she bought at Walmart have a different price, but in all likelihood they were a different lid.

To get a lower price, after the company has done the obvious things -- cut the number of employees, cut the pay, cut benefits, move the factories overseas. Use cheaper materials, streamline production. After it's cut the costs in all the  obvious ways, Walmart, in its constant drive for lower prices, demands  (a company the size of Walmart has so much power over many types of producers that the choice is to either do what Walmart wants or go out of business)

When you have cut everything else you are not left with many choices.  It's now time to reduce the quality of the product you offer.  Cut out the whistles.  Eliminate the bells.  Eventually it gets down to cutting into the basic integrity of the product.

So for a while there are two products. There is the one you used to produce.  The one you still sell to non-Walmart outlets.  The one that had the old quality and sells for the old 'higher' price.

And the new product.   The one that sells at Walmart.  With the lower price.  and the lower quality.

Because with Walmart and most of their customers the bottom line is the price.

When you walk down the aisle of a Walmart can you really tell yourself you are thinking about the quality of the products on the shelves?

Walmart has become the largest company in the world by betting you aren't.

So finally, here we are canning lids with two levels of quality and two prices. One end, with the majority of the market, Walmart.  and on the other end for a while the IGAs
Because I don't imagine that for very long the IGA's of this world, are going to stay in business.  Soon the lid company won't have the problem of turning out two products.  One, the old fashion product they used to make and Two the new modern, cheaper walmartitized lid. The one that fails 20% of the time.

So there's the brave new world for you.  A world of cheaper prices and cheaper (as in not worth the money paid for them) products.

A world where here might not be a free lunch but it will be cheaper  ( and by cheaper I mean lower quality  as in approaching the point of not worth eating).

When are we going to stop this cycle of constantly going downward.  A world of,  maybe not free lunches, but definitely a world of cheap ones.

A world where the norm is for 20% of the canning lids and everything else, to fail. 


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