retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The other day I did a piece about Mueller's, a bakery in Bay Head, New Jersey, that I called "the world's best crumb cake," one that many people would drive long distances for.  My intention was to use it as a metaphor - every food retailer, I suggested, needed to have such an item, which can serve as a strong differential advantage.

Got the following note from an MNB reader:

Just wanted to let you know that after seeing your piece on the “World’s Best Crumb Cake,” while planning a fall getaway to Cape May, I decided I had to try it.  So last Friday, on our way  from NYC), we made a 45 minute detour to pickup our crumb cake.  I ordered it ahead since I did not want to miss out on it on this long weekend and thought it would make a nice breakfast item to have around for breakfast at our Airbnb while relaxing over the fall weekend.

Well, I understand it’s important to set yourself apart as a business owner and be known for something, but a misinformation campaign should not be the goal.  I was sorely disappointed with the “World’s Best Crumb Cake,” as was my husband, who ate a small piece and proclaimed it dry, chalky, and tasting far too much like baking soda.  If this is the world’s best crumb cake, that bar must be sunken into the ground where it won’t cause a trip hazard, or maybe Mueller’s world is simply limited to Bay Head, NJ, which unlikely is home to another crumb cake purveyor?  By any means, after 2 days of trying to imagine it might be better warmed up (slightly), while packing up to head home, I was ordered to dispose of it.  Yes, it was truly so bland & taste-free that someone who HATES to waste food thought the best option was to throw it in a trashcan. 

First of all, I feel awful that you didn't like it.

My father-in-law (who liked to be referred to as "my sainted father-in-law) used to say, "Where taste is concerned, there is no dispute."  I think this is evidence of that - I'm not alone in my enthusiasm for Mueller's crumb cake, but the opinion clearly is not unanimous.

I do want to make one point, though.  I don't think Mueller's ever claimed to have the world's greatest crumb cake.  I said it, and for me, that statement is true.

I just don't want Mueller's to be accused of false advertising.  (It does call its crumb cake "famous," which I think is inarguable.)

From another reader:

This reminds me of one of my older brothers' favorite sayings, "Hunger is the finest sauce".  And also has me thinking about the Lebron/MJ GOAT debate.  Googling "the worlds best crumb cake" offers little if any clue to this argument.  (Can there even be the greatest of all time crumb cake??)    And then I am somewhat inspired at a 45 minute detour to at least give what could be the world's best a shot.  (Talk about a great adventure no matter the outcome).   I'd rather be reading about crumb cake than Covid any day of the week!   Dry as a bone or not!

Just between you and me, I'd rather write about crumb cake than covid.  Alas, that is not the world in which we live.

Would that wishing would make it otherwise.

Another MNB reader chimed in:

I had to tell you I mail ordered Mueller's crumb cake to give it a try. The postal cost was about the same as the cost for the cake so I most likely will not do that again. I did like the cake, it is different from what we get here in Minnesota, in Minnesota it is more cake like on the bottom, less crumbs on top and sweeter, may be it is a European style of crumb cake. I thought it had good flavor, one of the things I like about the most was it was not overly sweet or sugary. One of my brothers goes to New Jersey every once and a while, maybe I can have him pick me up some when he is there.

There are three kinds of people in the world, I think.  People who like more cake than crumbs, people who like an even balance, and people who like more crumbs.  Count me among the third group … which is why crumb cake c an be a highly personal thing.

From another MNB reader:

Thought I would chime in with crumb cake commentary. About 4 years ago I was visiting friends in NJ who recommended Mueller's, so we visited. My experience was that it was decent, but not great. I also agree that it was on the dry side and I like more moisture in mine. I also use Ebinger's (Brooklyn-based bakery that my grandparents always brought to our house on their weekly visits when I was a child - am not 69) as my standard, and maybe it's not fair to judge something today against a memory that might be 50 years old. But as you say, taste is purely individual, and we like what we like. It also is emotional, and whether we remember something that was maybe better in our memory than it was at the time, or whether or not we are influenced by recommendations is also part of the mix. Still, the fun is in trying recommended items as there is no shortage of poor quality items to eat, and no possible way to try everything so we use others' word of mouth to steer us to something that will hopefully delight us. Keep the suggestions coming and the commentary that follows is also good to read.

Another MNB reader wrote:

It’s damn sad when even Crumb Cake becomes a divisive issue. What the hell is wrong with people these days?

It's okay.  I'd rather be debating passionately about crumb cake than a lot of the other things about which we're all arguing - or not - these days.


A few days ago I did another piece about the power of memory, this one about beer jingles and commercials - for Schaeffer, Rheingold and Ballantine - that were so strong that they actually seem to have outlasted the brands themselves.

Got a lot of email about this, with a number of folks saying that while they were unfamiliar with those brands (which were based in New York City), there were others that resonated with them.

Like Hamm's:

Here's another one for Hamm's … see if you recognize one of the actors:

Or Utica Club:

Or Ranier Beer:

Or even Budweiser:

Thanks to all of you for sending in these and many more commercials.

I think it actually makes an important point … one that cuts across the subjects of both beer and crumb cake.  Memory is a powerful thing, and when brands can be both relevant and resonant, they can sear themselves into our collective consciousness, creating connections that last a long time.

There are retailers that do that.  There are retailers that don't.

Which one would you rather be?  And, are you doing your best to achieve that end?