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Nicholas Stix

Bring Out the Hellman’s, and Bring out ... Less?
By Nicholas Stix
Jul 28, 2006 - 4:10:00 PM

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It’s a dark day in the world of mayonnaise. Companies are faced all the time with the dilemma: Raise prices or cut content? 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. We were out of mayonnaise, and 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 my 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 I’m left with mayonnaise in greater danger of spoiling, before I 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.

Granted, I didn’t notice then whether they’d switched the bottles. In any event, 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 blogger has too much time on his hands, is even more guilty of the same sin, for at least the blogger is doing what he thinks is important. But the blogger’s critic is wasting his time on what he claims is worthless. (Pre-emptive strikes are not only permitted in blogging, 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 Coca-Cola’s 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. Let the cynics laugh that one off!

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Painful though they are, there’s even more at stake than price hikes. Until a couple of years ago, Hellman’s always came in a bottle, 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 so 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 devote ourselves to the worship of the idols of a consumer culture.

The folks at Unilever had better take care, that they not fall into the Maxwell House trap, and decide that people don’t really appreciate differences in quality ingredients, as opposed to clever marketing campaigns.

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 to cheat on bean quality. Apparently, they figured, no one would know the difference. (In the world of expresso 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 forsaking proper quality control. Thus, for the second time in 15 years, I have stopped buying their coffee.) An aggressive upstart named Folger’s came along to fill the void – with better beans and a great advertising jingle!

This is not your grandma’s Hellman’s.


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