The destruction of the Ivory® brand

The package design when I was a kid

The fictional scene: a Proctor & Gamble marketing department conference room, circa 2007.

“Today’s meeting is to discuss P&G’s long-term plans for the dismantling of the Ivory brand. Why? It’s plain, it’s vanilla, and it’s boring. It doesn’t even have colour; it’s the very definition of lacklustre. Sales are stagnant and we all know that shareholders raise eyebrows at status quo and no growth. These may be the towers that Ivory built, but today it represents less than 1% of P&G sales – it’s inconsequential at best. Frankly, we view it as an albatross ’round our necks and we need to end the brand over the course of the next several years and leave that particular customer base in the past, but in a somewhat subtle fashion. Now I want imaginative ideas on how we could go about this, even ones that you may think sound stupid.”

“I have one. Let’s make Ivory bars smaller in the most annoying way possible…not shorter, but narrower, so it doesn’t even feel like the same bar millions of people have been holding in their hands for decades.”

“Great idea. If we shave maybe three-quarters of an ounce off the sides, that will save us big time on shipping costs, too.”

“And we could disguise the size change by doing it at the same time as next year’s ‘Olympics edition’ bars and the package redesign. Kind of like ‘Look, up in the sky!’ while you’re relieving a mark of his wallet. Anyone complains, we just say consumer surveys showed most people wanted smaller bars or some other such malarkey.”

“Some people will probably curse us for years to come every time they unwrap another bar and are reminded yet again of our stripping the familiarity off the shape. It’ll be the epitome of irksome!”

“Good point. It’s a fine idea that I’m sure will be approved. Who else?”

“I have one. You know our liquid hand soap that’s pretty much the only national brand that both rinses off easily and leaves no scent?”

“Sure. What about it?”

“What if we got rid of it entirely? Just cut off one of the brand’s limbs, the heaviest one that costs us the most to move around.”

“Well, that seems pretty nasty. I like it. Now that’s thinking outside the box.”

“Box? What box? I don’t see any boxes of liquid hand soap around here!”

“Ha!”

“And former customers would be annoyed, I mean properly annoyed, as they see the last of the national supply dwindle on eBay and Amazon whilst its price per ounce rises to that of a top-shelf whisky.”

“Very nice. Anyone else?”

“Along those same lines, what if we were to introduce an Ivory body wash?”

“We’re talking about the destruction of the brand, not creating new products.”

“No, no, stay with me on this. You did say ‘somewhat subtle’.”

“Go on.”

“Here’s the twist: We make this new body wash pretty much impossible to rinse off in the shower, even with intense spray. Five minutes…six minutes…doesn’t matter – it just won’t come off!”

“Absolutely brilliant. They’ll hate it! They’ll hate us!

“And you know what? You might even fool some of the former liquid hand soap users into trying this body wash – once, anyway! – thinking maybe it would be like the old liquid soap. Picture them at their sink for twenty minutes trying to rinse it off, failing miserably and now both slimy and late for work. Idiots!”

“Ha! ‘Out, damned spot! Out, I say!’ All right, I think this is a good start. Let me bring these ideas to the high mucky-mucks and we’ll see what they say. Good job, folks.”

Home

My perhaps slightly obsessive preparation included seeking out Rich Hall’s latest for the Beeb, “Countrier Than You”, before surgery. His documentaries are always top shelf, and a hoot to boot.

Comfy in my cave – so far, only a little stinging in the first couple post-op hours that went away after a single Percocet.

“Could we maybe get rid of the egg part?”

Dunkin’ Donuts to use fewer ingredients in egg patty for breakfast sandwiches

I remember when Dunkin’ Donuts first started to do breakfast sandwiches maybe twenty years ago. Back then, they would actually crack an egg into a little paper tray and put it in the microwave, most always shooting you hateful looks because you were the arsehole who just ordered an egg sandwich.

Those baleful glances were actually far preferable to the factory-made over-easyish egg-shaped monstrosity they serve these days, which reminds me of those long tubes of hard-boiled egg manufactured to facilitate perfect slices for salad bars*, only much worse. At least those tubes have just egg whites and egg yolks.

For the morbidly curious, here’s their reduced ingredient list for the “egg” part of their sandwiches:

egg whites, water, egg yolks, modified corn starch, natural sauteed flavor (soybean oil, medium-chain triglycerides, natural flavor), salt, artificial butter flavor (propylene glycol, artificial flavor), xanthan gum, citric acid and coarse ground black pepper

I have to admit that the factory that stamps these out would be fascinating to see. For instance, do they mould these simulacra individually or do they make, say, a two-foot-long egg log that they cut into 3/8″ slices?

I also and even more distinctly remember further back, when I was a kid and my family would stop at the local Dunkin’ Donuts after church every Sunday. Our goal was simply a dozen donuts – six honey dipped and six chocolate honey dipped, decades before they abandoned “honey dipped” for “glazed” during their race to the bottom. In winter months, DDs were almost tropically steamy inside because they were actually making donuts in the back for several hours running, on Sunday mornings especially, and smelled strongly, warmly, and gloriously of coffee and donuts frying. Chances were very good on Sundays that the donuts you bought were still going to be warm.

Now there are just a handful of Dunkin’ Donuts in the US that still make their own donuts – only three dozen were left eight years ago. The other shops get their “product” from regional factory bakeries and their premises smell of the definition of forlorn.

This story originally ran in the Boston Globe in 2009 – I’m pasting it here because it’s been behind a paywall for some years now while its accompanying photos (at the link above) are strangely not, but I saved the web page eight years ago. That’s right, I’m an ornery, rule-flouting SOB.

As classical music plays in the background, baker Russ Glod spends his mornings rolling, frying, and frosting hundreds of the circular concoctions for the busiest Dunkin’ Donuts store in the nation. Here, Glod hand-cuts the dough for filled doughnuts. The Dunkin’ Donuts in Weymouth [Massachusetts] on the corner of Route 18 and Park Avenue is one of only three dozen of the more than 2,100 shops in the Northeast that still make doughnuts from scratch in the stores.

Doughnuts the old-fashioned way

At Weymouth Dunkin’ Donuts, in-store bakers keep the confections fresh and the customers very happy

October 6, 2009

WEYMOUTH – By 8:30 a.m., baker Russ Glod is four hours deep into his doughnut dance. As classical music plays in the background, Glod pirouettes through the small kitchen, rolling, frying, and frosting hundreds of these circular concoctions for the busiest Dunkin’ Donuts store in the nation.

Glod is a rarity in the Dunkin’ empire. Only three dozen of the more than 2,100 shops in the Northeast still make doughnuts from scratch in the stores. Most franchisees have their baked goods delivered from a commissary, and the art of making doughnuts on site has nearly disappeared from the chain, famous for its classic 1980s “Time to Make the Donuts’’ tagline.

But the craft lives on in the wee hours at this Weymouth store on the corner of Route 18 and Park Avenue, where bakers cook through the night.

Lynne McLaughlin and Sharon Holdcraft, the sisters who own and run the shop, refused to part with the tradition after taking over the store from their father 11 years ago, even though most other franchisees were outsourcing doughnut making.

“We think it gives us an edge,’’ McLaughlin said as she proudly showed off the kitchen, the sweet smell of cinnamon and sugar wafting throughout the store, which is so popular that the owners put in a two-lane drive-through – and even that isn’t enough to keep traffic from spilling out on the road.

The sisters say keeping the baking in-house has made the shop more agile in the recession, giving them better control over expenses and the ability to cut down quickly on production when business slowed. It has also allowed them to feature an expansive selection of more than 35 doughnuts, compared to 20 varieties typically available at Dunkin’ shops. Unique offerings, like blueberry cake munchkins and glazed jelly doughnuts, have helped the sisters cultivate a fiercely loyal following and have attracted customers who would rather drive here than buy the doughnuts at the Dunkin’s in their own towns.

The success is in the numbers: It is the busiest shop of more than 6,300 Dunkin’s nationwide, serving up more than 1,000 doughnuts a day on average, compared to about 700 doughnuts at a typical Dunkin’ store.

“I wouldn’t go to any of the others. They have the best jelly doughnut out there,’’ said Mary Crowley, 77, who makes the daily trip to this Dunkin’ with several of her church friends, rather than visit shops closer to home on the border of Hingham. Crowley tried several other Dunkin’s when the Weymouth one was closed for renovations years ago, but she has remained loyal ever since it reopened the doors.

Stuart Morris, president of QSR Consulting Group, said baking primary menu items on site is a rarity in the quick-service restaurant industry. Mrs. Fields, a gourmet cookie chain, and Wetzel’s Pretzels are some of the few other companies whose store owners bake on site, according to Morris.

“Doughnuts are an indulgent and ‘sinful’ purchase that we all love,’’ Morris said. “Having them made fresh is a statement of quality to the product and a reward to the consumer. It is no wonder that this Dunkin’ Donuts is among the busiest in the country.’’

The movement to central bakeries across the Canton chain was intended to help franchisees simplify their operations while ensuring fresh product is delivered each day to stores, according to Dunkin’ spokesman Andrew Mastrangelo.

This model allows franchisees with one store and those with multiple locations to share baking resources and generate economies of scale. Shop owners usually pay an upfront cost – some starting at $15,000 – and then have ongoing expenses, including the cost of goods and transportation. Most Dunkin’ stores get at least two deliveries a day of the doughnut rings and shells, which are then frosted and filled on site by employees.

In the kitchen at the back of the Weymouth store, Glod, the soft-spoken head baker who has worked here for more than 25 years, appears unaware of his doughnut dexterity. Wearing a white apron splattered with oil, a faded Dunkin’ baseball cap, and a sweat-soaked T-shirt, Glod smiles meekly, “It’s a job.’’

He turns back to his post at the frialator – a huge vat with 150 pounds of oil. With the deft, swift touch of a magician, he flips 36 golden doughnuts using wooden drum sticks that barely touch the rings.

Minutes later, this doughnut wizard is sliding his creations through a tunnel of white glaze, where the gooey white mixture drips off the sides like wax.

Across the kitchen, two assistants are using pastry bags to inject cream into doughnuts and completing the rings with sprinkles, frosting, and other treats.

On any given weekday, Glod spends at least eight hours a day making hundreds of doughnuts – along with dozens of bagels, muffins, and other baked goods. He nearly doubles that output during busy weekends when families trek out to the Weymouth store from across the South Shore. Every few months, Glod will get instructions and photos for a new item Dunkin’ is introducing, most recently the “Toffee in Your Coffee’’ doughnut, which is topped with crushed Heath bars.

“It’s not that hard,’’ Glod said. “You just follow the instructions.’’

Despite Glod’s modesty about his mastery, there’s clearly something about his doughnuts that sets them apart. In a recent taste test organized by the Globe with true connoisseurs of the fine art of doughnuts – 12 officers from the Quincy Police Department – goods baked by Glod consistently beat doughnuts delivered from a Dunkin’ commissary to a Quincy store.

The officers described his creations as moister, fluffier, and more consistent. They were larger and had more filling. Side by side, Glod’s doughnuts won out in nearly every variety: Boston Kreme, jelly, butternut, strawberry frosting, and glazed.

“It was definitely fresher and it just tasted better,’’ said Quincy Detective Leo Coppens, a self-described “doughnut aficionado,’’ who said his doughnut had more jelly and a better sugar coating. “I would know.’’

*Here’s how some places achieve such perfect hard-boiled egg slices. Google “long egg” or “egg loaf” to learn more.

Cave Prep

I’m having arthroscopic knee surgery on Tuesday to clean up a large lateral meniscus tear – I tripped over a power cord sixteen months ago and landed hard on my right knee – and don’t much fancy microwaved and canned stuff during recovery. It sounds like I’ll have limited mobility, likely unable for a while to stand in the kitchen for hours, so I was busy yesterday and today, making:

  • Four quarts of French onion pot roast beef stew with a chuck eye roast
  • Quart-and-a-half of four-hour pasta sauce
  • Two Comfort Diner meatloaves; one’s in the freezer
  • Approximately one boatload of mashed potatoes
  • Couple pounds of glazed carrots
  • Homemade mayonnaise – specifically for meatloaf sandwiches – using the very cool, very fast immersion-blender-in-a-jar method
  • New York Times chocolate chip cookies with Maldon sea salt and toasted pecans

Of course, I’m already unable to stand for extended periods without pain, so I kind of screwed up the knee in the last 48 hours, but the above will be worth all the wincing and shouts of “Ow!” to no one in particular today. Those plus my best friend keeping me company through Thursday plus the Percocet ought to see me through just fine.

Sounds like premeditated murder to me

Elon Musk, not exactly a stranger to launch failures, is planning to fly a couple of billionaire tourists around the moon in Q4 2018, just 19-22 months from now.

NASA is being pressured into – and is apparently considering – turning the first all-up SLS test flight, unmanned in current plans, into not just a manned mission but one around the moon.

What could possibly go wrong?

The Apollo programme put men on board only after six comprehensive test flights, four with Saturn IBs and two all-up Saturn V stacks, and ten component test flights before that using Saturn I. Wernher von Braun didn’t even want to do the first all-up test of a Saturn V stack when they did, preferring to proceed even more methodically and carefully. There were many problems and many fixes after each of those flights, some of which were detailed in the excellent six-part “Moon Machines” series, the Saturn episode of which is below.

I often complain that we haven’t done anything of real substance in manned space travel since Apollo 17 returned in December 1972, not once leaving low Earth orbit in forty-five years, but this two-pronged plan to knowingly, purposefully, needlessly put lives at extreme risk is not what I want to see. If carried through, neither of these is likely to end well. I won’t say I told you so; I will mourn.

It may be oversimplifying and slightly facetious to say this, but there is no one left at NASA who remembers how to get to the moon.

All six episodes of “Moon Machines” are in this playlist.

Garlic bread the French way

I’m making lasagne tonight and of course need garlic bread, so I decided to do it in a different way this time, featuring a version of the butter-braised and supremely mellow garlic that starts out Julia Child’s recipe for purée de pommes de terre à l’ail (garlic mashed potatoes). I don’t much like the taste of raw garlic that too often comes through in others’ garlic bread, and this is a fine way to tone down that harshness.

Directions

Braise the peeled cloves of two whole heads of garlic (yes!) in a small pan with a stick (8 tablespoons, 110g) of unsalted butter. Keep it on lowest heat so it’s barely bubbling – you don’t want to color either the butter or the garlic, so keep an eye on it. Braise until the garlic is quite soft and squishable, 20-30 minutes. I squished some of these with the back of a spoon to check them after half an hour.

Note: After baking and tasting the bread, I determined that you could get away with one head of garlic just fine, using the same amount of butter. The bread was good, but the garlic could be taken down a notch or three with no ill effect.

Mash:

Pass through a fine sieve – I found I had missed four bits of skin – and mix in some fresh unsalted butter while it’s still warm. I eyeballed it and decided that about a half-stick more would be enough for the entire Italian loaf I had.

Mix in a handful of fresh chopped parsley and a pinch of salt, then allow to cool for a little while for easier spreading:

Slice an Italian loaf 3/4 of the way through so the loaf stays together, then spread the garlic mixture between the slices, being more generous than a cardiologist would because you’re not making this every day. Wrap tightly in foil and store in the fridge until ready to bake.

I’ll post the results later, but the next step is to bake, still wrapped in the foil, at 400F (200C) for 15-20 minutes until the bread inside is hot and beginning to crisp. Open the foil up and bake an additional few minutes uncovered to brown the edges nicely.

Network quality control

On Sunday, I made a double recipe, five quarts, of Julia Child’s French onion soup – The Way to Cook variation – in preparation for my hybrid French onion pot roast beef stew on Christmas. This variation of hers is my favourite. The cognac and vermouth insinuate themselves delightfully into the soup during the three-hour slow simmer, producing intricately complex flavours in the result.

Unfortunately, last week, this news arrived regarding my food processor’s blade assembly:

Conair has received 69 reports of consumers finding broken pieces of the blade in processed food, including 30 reports of mouth lacerations or tooth injuries.

So, I signed up for a new blade and proceeded to thinly slice nineteen onions without mechanical aid. I briefly considered using the mandoline, but using that thing for the better part of an hour seemed like it might well be the start of an eventually disappointing recipe for a trip to A&E, never convenient when you’re about to caramelise twenty cups of onions for an hour or so. ’Round about onion seventeen, I did poke my thumb with the tip of the knife, the first time in some years I’ve cut myself (“Say…why is this onion running red?” I idly wondered), but the Victorinox is nice and sharp, so it was at least a clean cut.

Of course, the soup cannot just lazily sit in the fridge waiting for Saturday night. Quality testing protocols must be followed here at the Finley Quality Network, and that’s where I come in. I also happen to be the sole employee, but that’s neither here nor there – we (I) have standards to maintain regardless of piffling staffing levels. Plus I needed dinner.

Click for a mouth-wateringly HD version

As may be obvious from the photograph, yes, it passed with flying colours. If this has piqued your interest, here’s a printable image I put together of the three related recipes from The Way to Cook: the soup, the French bread croûtes, and the gratinée variant.

On Amazon, I found the defective processor blade, used on about twenty models over a nineteen-year period, is still being offered for sale. As if that wasn’t bad enough, my eyebrows like to shoot off the top of my head when I then, out of curiosity, looked at the oldest reviews and found one in 2012 clearly describing a metal fatigue problem in the blade. I don’t wish to cast aspersions or, more specifically, get sued, but I certainly hope Conair hasn’t been sitting on any similar information they might have been privy to.

Sprint rides again, stumbles

In the hope that fellow Justin from Sprint might visit: Sprint has redesigned their site again, this time concentrating on the billing and payment section and unfortunately making it rather difficult to figure out whether you’ve paid the current bill. Formerly, on login you would be brought to a single account summary that showed your latest bill and whether you had paid it. Now it’s more complicated.

When you select Pay bill, instead of showing you the outstanding balance as the default amount to pay, it seems to think you don’t owe anything and so says the default payment is $.00. So you need to go to View bill – where it inconveniently doesn’t say whether you’ve paid or not – and note the amount of the bill, then go to Payment activity to see if you’ve paid recently, then go back to Pay bill and enter the amount you owe. Hardly efficient.

sprint-redux

My prediction is that they will soon be shutting off service to a fair number of people who mistakenly believe they’ve paid because Pay bill implies, fairly heavily, that they don’t owe anything and who then do not proceed to click here, there, and everywhere to see if it’s true.

My current bill from them is paid, but only in Payment activity can I figure that out, sort of. To fix this redesign problem, they should:

  • In View bill, show whether the bill is paid, as they used to.
  • In Pay bill, show the amount still due on the current bill next to the Total radio button as they used to, not “$.00”.

Postscript, 9 December: It appears they saw the error of their ways because they tossed their recent changes onto the scrap heap and went back to the original code. Smart move.

This and the previous episode make me wonder if the root of the problem is perhaps that Sprint employees only rarely visit their own site. I mean, they get free cell service, so who needs to pay a bill? T’huh. Proposal: Make the web programming honcho and a few lead coders pay for their cell service and reimburse them monthly. I’ll wager there would be fewer – if any – problems with rollouts of site changes from that point forward.