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Bland blending of outmoded American brands

Charles Moore, Community Voices Columnist • Apr 12, 2019 at 8:00 AM

Many of us who follow the business news have been stunned by the recent massive billions-of-dollars write-down by Kraft Heinz Company (NYSE: KHC). When I thought about what this company sells and this subsequent acknowledgment their brand names were in danger of being completely demolished, I asked myself what have we stopped eating of those brands in the last few years.

We’re not talking ketchup and mustard. This plunge covers a vast array of name-brand staples that have been in homes since before WWII. Kraft is a name that has been around for over 100 years. While, Kraft and Heinz have ruled their market for decades, now they are not only vulnerable, they are flat on their backs on the canvas.

For example, unless someone slipped me one at the ball park, I haven’t chosen Oscar Mayer wieners in decades. I can’t debate their nutrition but I know I just perceived them as being “less” nutritious. I used to buy Kraft’s Cracker Barrel cheese but that’s been supplanted, too, maybe because it is in the dairy case and not in the designer-cheese case. Apparently, I am not alone in making a few of these kinds of decisions.

Whether we want to admit it or not, our diet and eating habits have changed by an order of magnitude compared to what we saw or learned 50 years ago. Both parents work full-time. Nobody wants to spend hours slaving over a hot stove every day.

Along with better refrigeration and handling from farm to home, we have better health standards, and the rise of the microwave, which contribute to making life easier and a less need for the brand. The ease of the drive-through has continually eroded grocery sales. Speed and convenience are the bywords of American life. I generally do not romance the way things were. I eat better (but a lot more, too). The food selection at the store is generally better (but could always improve). It also makes a big difference that Walmart (and Kmart) drove prices down which changed our shopping habits in a store that was not a traditional grocery store.

We have been taught over a period of time that house brands can compete with name brands. That slight bit of “education” also led to our choosing other brand names (when possible) or choosing a “healthier” alternative. We also began to see healthy as local and/or small batch. Modern labeling and “health” guides by the hundreds simply overran name-brand generic advertising.

But, the universe trends toward the middle, including food brands, blue jeans, car brands, Facebook, golfers, computers and the New England Patriots, all those things which we as consumers begin to see as commodities. A commodity makes no distinction between product whether corn or sow bellies.

GM got a massive black eye 40 years ago when it admitted that an Oldsmobile wasn’t any different than a Chevy. (Oldsmobile is not even in my spell checker this was so long ago.)

IBM lost much of its product identity 25 years ago not to Apple but to Dell, basically a mail-order, commodity-computer company. And Dell subsequently lost its identity to an array of the look-a-likes.

If you think Apple and Samsung don’t look over their shoulders, think again. It is just a matter of time. You are holding a media source that has to struggle daily to disassociate itself from all other media sources commoditized by the Internet.

I wonder, if when we find life on thousands of other planets will that commoditize Earth? Why not? We already treat humans and wildlife like commodities.

Perhaps a little more obvious is the demise of the huge, single-brand beer companies: Miller, Anheuser-Busch (who is in my spell check), and Coors. The big three scarfed up the smaller breweries in an attempt to diversify and protect the brand. All of a sudden, Anheuser-Busch acquired Miller, creating one giant company. Then craft beer exploded on the scene. Those old brands are indistinctive as toilet paper and are steadily losing customers. We can romance the Clydesdales and enjoy A-B ads in the Super Bowl, but it is more like a death knell.

There is an old adage about change that says change is like boiling a frog, in this case the frog was named Kraft and Heinz?

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