retail news in context, analysis with attitude

We got a number of emails responding to Michael Sansolo’s column yesterday about products that are supposedly “new and improved,” but often are not so much. he cited both Windows XP and the constant flow of newfangled razor blades onto the market as two examples of “new” items that are not necessarily necessary.

MNB user David Brewster wrote:

I believe you are much too kind. Products (food and small appliances come to mind as good examples) defined as "new and improved" are often the same, or worse, more cheaply made, smaller, more expensive and repackaged - usually to disguise the change for the worse.

Ice cream used to come in half gallons. and now with two hidden steps of new improvements is considerably reduced in quantity with packaging carefully designed to disguise that, and with "double churning" which adds air.  Coffee makers, which used to last indefinitely seem to last about 18 months - or I've had a lousy string of luck through several major brands.  The new pound is 12 oz., the new half-gallon was 1.75 liters and is now 1.5 liters.

The new serving size is about half a single serve package when enumerating bad stuff in the food.

How many times a week does a reputable provider of goods and services try to disguise cost / quantity / value by the words "new and improved"?  I think almost every time. 

So Consumers Union is one form of vigilance ... and MNB is another.

Keep it up.

MNB user Tom Redwine responded specifically to Michael’s description of XP:

Oh Michael, if only XP was indeed a program. Allow me to descend into a little nerdity here...

Windows XP is an operating system. An operating system (OS) is like the automatic centers of the brain that control breathing and regulate heartbeats - the OS does all the breathing and regulating heartbeats for the computer, allowing it to run programs like Firefox, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Word and Excel, etc. in the "consciousness" of the computer (the fun parts that you and I play with).

Upgrading an OS is rarely easy and often messy, and that's when you have a clear upgrade path designed by the manufacturer. However, Microsoft doesn't offer an upgrade path from XP to Vista's heir, Windows 7. Going from XP to Win7 (as I have done) may mean formatting the drive and doing a complete (from the ground up) install. Painful, time consuming, and you stand there for hours praying all your backups are good, because you'll have to restore all your personal data after the new OS is installed.

Had Microsoft provided an upgrade path from XP to Win7, they'd've sold their enterprise customers in the first week. Instead, as business customers shelve older computers for new ones, they'll gradually embrace Win7, 'cause that'll be what's on the majority of PCs sold. Unless you're in a very large company with an entrenched IT dept and userbase; then, you're hosed.

BTW, Win7 runs great on my wife's desktop, which used to run XP. My backups were good.

All of this description, by the way, illustrates why I have a Mac.

Another MNB user wrote:

Couldn't agree more about the razor blades example. I still use twin blades and hate the thought that they may no longer be available one day.

And, from MNB user Dana Wise:

I love the Gillette Sensor Excel, but I have not liked a single innovation from Gillette since.  I am a hoarder of the old style.  I even had to hunt in 3 different states for a replacement handle when I left mine somewhere other than my bag while traveling.  I will just say it was an ordeal trying new products while I hunted for the old style.

Apparently I am in the minority of everything when it comes to personal preferences.  It isn't just razors, it is in virtually every consumable product ever made.  I don't know why, but I will be happily buying my favorite products for a year or two, and then they discontinue it!  No warning.  No last minute sales of everything left on the shelf (to allow me to stock up).  And worst of all - horrible replacement products.  Then the whole process starts over...uuugh!

I’m not surprised that we got a bunch of email yesterday about the raw milk issue, which was brought up by which I said I’d never drink; I prefer my milk pasteurized simply because it seems safer to me.

One MNB user responded:

Yet you eat hamburgers, sushi  - anything else?

I probably eat lots of stuff that I should not. But raw milk isn’t going to make the list.

MNB user Sara Hamaker wrote:

Hi. I'm a frequent reader of your site but have never written before now. My family and I have been drinking raw milk for several years now, delivered each week by our "milkman" fresh from a farm in the next county. We're not rabid raw milk proponents and have visited the farm that provides our milk--it is clean and well-run. The cows frolic in the pasture and munch on grass, rather than being cooped up in a barn and fed synthetic hormones to increase their milk supply.

One of the reasons we decided to drink raw milk comes down to its nutrients, many of which are lost because of pasteurization. As someone who breastfeed my children, I started thinking about how you're not supposed to microwave breastmilk when giving a bottle because it destroys many of the properties that make breastmilk good for the baby. I then realized how much of the "good stuff" in cow's milk that is zapped away by the high heat process. Personally, raw milk has not cured any diseases that we've had--and I remain somewhat skeptical of those claims from others. We love the rich creaminess of the milk and find it doesn't cause any type of stomach upsets, the way regular milk sometimes caused us. Besides, it's fun to shake the cream down before pouring.

We certainly do not feel we are playing "Russian roulette" with our lives, as one FDA official put it. Frankly, we feel much safer drinking our raw milk than picking up veggies or beef at the supermarket, what with all the recalls and foodborne illness outbreaks traced to nuts, spinach, salsa, guacamole, and beef lately. Drinking raw milk does have it's risks, but we feel that whenever we can get our food directly from the source--be it raw milk, beef from a local rancher or vegetables and fruit from a farm co-op--we think our lives are the better for it.

Okay, I just have one question.

Do the cows really “frolic”?

Because I’ve seen a few pastures in my day, and I’ve never seen a cow frolic. Generally they just seem to stand around chewing, maybe lumber around a bit, but never frolic.

I’m just asking.

Another MNB user wrote:

There is nothing wrong with raw milk. The problem arises with cleanliness issues from the farmer to the purchaser. Pasteurized and homogenized milk offers significantly reduced nutritional value, except calories. I have not drunk milk for 10 years and do not miss it. I don’t miss the raw milk either…with all the little clumps of fat floating on the surface.

MNB user Steven Ritchey wrote:

I’ve often wondered if some people don’t realize that things like pasteurization cost money, in todays bottom line driven corporate culture would the dairy processors be doing something that costs them money, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.  There is no way I’d drink raw milk, it is literally a crap shoot as to what diseases might be lurking in it.

There’s no way I’d be elected in todays political climate, for one I’ll never run, and also, I do believe in reasonable regulation.  While I don’t want governmental regulation over all aspects of our lives, in some instances we do need to be protected from ourselves and from the excesses that can come when people are left to their own devices.

And, from another MNB user:

What planet do these people live on?  Cows don’t live at the day spa, it’s a farm, a dirty filthy stinking farm.  I’m with you on this one Kevin.  Ever driven past a farm and watched a cow take a dump? It’s actually hard to drive by one and not see nature take it’s course.   And I’m not trying to be crude here, at over 4 feet tall at the shoulder, to drop a load from that distance…well it splatters.  The odds of not having fecal matter on the udders and in your milk are slim to none.  Then there’s the dusty barn.  Even if you had a clean cow, a triple washed cow, dust would get on the cow and in the dust is not only dirt but dried up feces.

Well, this would seem to clear up my “do cows really frolic” more detail than I needed to have.
KC's View: