Sunday, April 04, 2010

The Slow, Agonizing Death of Home Cooking

Items I could not find on the shelves of my neighborhood supermarket yesterday:

1. sugar cubes (for making cocktails)
2. capers
3. pink salt (a.k.a. curing salt, for curing hams and sausages)
4. horseradish

The last item I found the shelf tags for, but all brands were sold out (Passover rush, perhaps?)  The others three items aren't even carried.

I did, however, find this new display:

Premeasured spices on little cards complete with recipes. 

And I wondered: who the heck is the target market for this stuff?  A serious home cook would have no problem whipping up the spices for roasted chicken out of his or her cabinet.    Not everyone likes to cook--nothing wrong with that--but isn't there a rotisserie chicken already cooked and waiting just down in the deli area for those folks?

As it turns out, according to the Baltimore Sun, the target market seems to be penny-pinching consumers who, thanks to recession belt-tightening, want to make at home the same kind of meals they used to buy in restaurants.  Cutting back on restaurant eating: I get that.  Paying two bucks per meal for spices: not exactly smart economy.

What's really amusing are the reactions of various food "journalists" to this new product launch (Google "McCormick Recipe Inspirations" for a sampling.)  One actually wrote: "Priced at $1.99 each, one packet seasons a main course for four to eight people for just pennies per serving."  For just quarters per serving would be a little more accurate.  This same scribe noted, "cooks who have to run out and buy a particular spice or herb every time they try a new recipe will be able to cut down on cost for an item they might not use frequently."  

Yes.  I can see the point.  The Rosemary Roasted Chicken package contains many bizarre, exotic spices that few home cooks would normally have on hand or could justify buying in bulk: paprika, rosemary, garlic, black  pepper.  The Spanish Chicken Skillet has three of the very same spices--paprika, garlic, and the very rare black pepper--along with red pepper flakes and thyme. 

One can plainly see how paying $2.39 per meal for spices (my supermarket apparently kicked it up a little over McCormick's recommended price of $1.99) will put our cash-strapped American families back on the road to economic recovery.

McCormick & Co, the spice maker, seems to know what they're doing, though.  Their business is booming, with 1st quarter net income up 17.6% over the same period last year.

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