Product Test Spectacular: Gravy Bread Examines 2x Concentrated Laundry Detergent

March 24, 2008

As savvy shoppers know, the current spate of outrageous grocery inflation is not something that has suddenly happened in recent months but has been continuing unabated for many years in the form of a deceitful, backhanded form of inflation that we all know as product downsizing—a form of inflation that doesn’t get counted by the bogus Consumer Price Index. That’s why the “regular”-size $1 paper towel roll is now as thin as a baseball bat and the Sun Ships that were 11.5 ounces last week are 10.5 ounces this week. The reduction in bag size is so slight that the corporate scumbags hope you won’t notice. And I wouldn’t have been able to tell, if it weren’t for the grocery still leaving the old ounce size on their shelf price tag. Caught red-handed.

One tell-tale sign that a product has been reduced in size slightly is a redesign of the shape of the container or a change in the label design. (“New design, same great taste!” is a typical diversionary strategy. What the new label should say is “Same product—and less of it!”).

It’s because of these tactics that I have been leery of late to buy any of the downsized laundry detergent bottles that are now pretty much all that is offered in every store now. From Target to Kroger to Wal-mart and beyond, these 50-percent reduced in size laundry detergent bottles are now the de-facto size on every shelf. I still had an old 120-ounce (“plus 20 percent bonus”) or 38-loads size of Purex detergent in the laundry room. So, for the sake of comparison I decided to go ahead and buy the new Purex 2x-concentrated formula 60-ounce (“plus 20 percent bonus”) or 38-loads size that is now being offered instead (at the same price at Target of $3.49).

To compare the old formula against the new 2x formula, I simply washed two large loads on the large/cold setting on my washer. Into the first load I poured one cap of old formula Purex (up to the fill line, which is about 3/4’s from the top of the cap). For the second load, I poured the new 2x formula into the new bottle’s smaller cap up to its fill line. Just to make sure, I poured that into the old bigger cap to see if it came halfway up the fill line of the old cap, and it did. Theoretically, half the amount of the new formula should produce the same amount of suds as the old formula and get the clothes just as clean.

Well, let’s see.

The following photo sequence shows the procedure described above, and I’m happy to report that the suds produced by both products were comparable and the cleansing power of both was the same.

Ultimately, this all begs the question: Why did the detergent companies sell us watered-down product all these years, in huge, bulky non-biodegradable plastic containers that are horrible for the environment?

-EG

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Does Evian Give You the Runs? Verdict Inconclusive

May 23, 2007

100_0565-13.jpgI’ve had lots of bottled waters but have to admit that I’d never tried the much-vaunted French H2O, Evian, until this weekend. Walgreen’s has it on sale this week for $1 for a large 1-liter bottle, which makes this usually pricey item affordable to me, and thus worth a try. I have to say, it’s pretty good, not as soft as I might have expected, but nicely neutral with no hint of plastic that I can detect; the product comes in what seems to be a pretty good grade of hard PET plastic. By chance, I was store hopping on my bike on Sunday and crossed paths with my next door neighbors. I mentioned to them that I had just bought this Evian for the first time and the good lady informed me that she had tried it once and got such a severe case of the runs that she was laid up for a day. “That’s ’cause it’s mineral water,” she explained. Sounded kinda unpersuasive to me. Although Evian does have a lot of dissolved minerals, I don’t think they’d cause diarrhea. As it turns out, though, I’ve been a little excessively “regular” ever since I started drinking this stuff a few days ago, but that’s probably because I concurrently developed a craving for raisins that I have satisfied to excess by downing handfuls of the sweet shriveled grapes. I think it can be reasonably assumed that my regularity-in-overdrive can be attributed to this, not the water.

Anyway, there is another question that comes up in regard to Evian that I can’t seem to find a good, conclusive answer for (at least in searching the discussion boards via google)—and that is: Why is there a tiny “do not refill” command on the label?

The various posited internet speculations include things such as:

** “Evian knows that if consumers are so stupid to buy bottled water in the first place they will blindly follow any command on the bottle and continue to spend more money on new bottles instead of refilling them.”

** “The plastic in the bottles begins breaking down immediately, putting excess chemicals into the water.”

** “Unscrupulous entrepreneurs and bartenders have refilled empty Evian bottles with tap water and sold them as new.”

All, some or none of these may be true, or not.

Since the 1-800-633-3363 Evian consumer number is printed right next to the warning, I decided to go ahead and give them a call and ask.

A rep by the name of Sofien politely explained: “Evian is bottled under strict sanitary conditions,” which are not replicated when consumers refill and reseal the bottles.

So Evian considers it a customer safety issue. I find it hard to argue with that reasoning. Whether it’s entirely true or not is up to you.

-EG


Mexican Granola and Other Crap

May 22, 2007

Pardon me for being effusive, scattershot and probably tangential. And also lightweight.

But I’m going to be.

You see, ever since I’ve been doing this blogging thing, I’ve accumulated notes-filled paper scraps about stuff I want to write about here at Gravy Bread.

And the ideas—and the little sheets of paper—have outpaced my ability and time to address it all.

So in this super post I’m going to sort of “bullet-point” some of these nagging bits and get them, and the sheets of paper, out of the way.
That won’t leave much room for essay-like detail or probing analysis.

Maybe another time.

I start with something we all like and sort of need: food.

100_0338-10.jpgHere we have a new product: Nature Valley Crunchy 100 percent natural cereal with granola bar pieces, made by General Mills—an attempt to morph its popular granola bars into a mini cereal version. This ain’t a review, but for the record the cereal would be better with just the flakes and without the much-touted granola bar pieces, which are way too sweet. So I’m not recommending…
What really disturbed me about the product, though, was a little info offered at the bottom on one side of the box. I think you can read it. It says: Product of Mexico. That’s right. Somehow, I always assumed that major, everyday brand-name flag-wavin’ and ‘Merkin as apple pie General Mills food products like this would always be made in the USA. After all, how is it efficient for a US company to make a food product and then have to ship it all the way back into the country?100_0342-10mex.jpg

So, now food has gone the way of other manufacturing, jobs and everything else that corporate America has shipped away. I don’t think we can last long as a nation of burger flippers or paper pushers trading stocks on the internet…producing nothing but electronic zaps of hope and greed. As for food cleanliness standards abroad, do the words, “pet food” sound any alarms? Then again, we had our own self-inflicted dirty spinach fiasco of last fall, and e. coli and salmonella scares all the time, thanks to our severely screwed-up, de-toothed, de-balled and underfunded inspection system.
So, in conclusion, add General Mills to your list of corporate American traitors…

100_0528-103rdeye.jpgIf you’re out there on the road on a bicycle you might want to get past the initial sticker shock of paying $15 for a tiny 1-inch mirror and go ahead and get it anyway. That’s because the Third Eye Pro bike helmet mirror is one of the best safety investments I’ve ever made. I picked one up at Bardstown Road Bicycles, slapped the little two-sided glue sticky slab onto the oblong attachment surface, placed it onto the left side of my helmet just above and to the side of my eye and now have a great view of everything behind me. No more dangerous and nerve wracking head-turning every few seconds to see what’s doing in the rear, as it were. The alternate idea of100_0526-15-3rdeye.jpg putting a mirror on the handlebar is a bad one, I think, (rattles around, interferes with hand movement and grip, prone to theft and breakage, etc) compared to this compact and easy helmet solution.

I love this thing and find it indispensable out on the dangerous streets. Plus it makes you look like the Borg and is thus a great conversation starter. I’ve noticed that women seem fascinated by it, for some reason.

labrea-breads.jpgSmart shoppers know that checking the deli bread area at Kroger every few days can pay off, because the expensive artisan breads often get slashed in half or more in price as the expiration date looms. Which means the chance to try expensive products I might otherwise overlook. So when I saw a “$1.05” markdown sticker on something called “La Brea” honey rolls. I gave ‘em a shot. They’re packed in a yellow paper sack with a plastic view window (nice to make sure there’s no mold). There are about six of these three-inch rectangular semi-hard buns in the bag. I ate a couple of them at room temp with cheese and was not too impressed, but when I heated them for a minute or two in the toaster oven and schmeared some real butter on ‘em they were kickass delish! (OK, so this time I didn’t “buy local;” they come from California.)

100_0524-60moon.jpgGood grief, I’ve already run out of energy and there’s still dozens of little sheets of paper. Sorry this ended up sounding like a bunch of product reviews. But in that vein, here’s a shot of the moon I took about 6:40 a.m. two weeks ago, with a lowly Kodak EasyShare digital camera. Not bad, considering…

Anyway, the super post will continue when we meet again…

–EG ( who made no money on any of these endorsements!)


Postal Service Joins the Price Gouge Parade: or, Peanuts Don’t Cost Peanuts Anymore

May 14, 2007

costbill.jpgI knew postage would be more expensive today. The news media has been saying so for weeks. And I was prepared for a modest hike.

But consider this.

In order to help myself get by in this increasingly expensive world, I sell small items on Amazon and sometimes Ebay, mostly VHS videotapes and CDs that are out of print or rare or relatively so, and mostly at $6 or less.

Normally, sending a videotape via media mail has cost $1.59, almost without exception.

Today, it was $2.13, each. That’s $4.16 just to send two videos, one of which I only sold for $6, minus the various fees and commissions. (First class would be even more, around $2.50). In the end, the best I made in profit was $1.50.

Guess where all my $6 videos are going from now on? In my mother’s yard sale. I’d rather clear a straight up $2 than put up with any more of this shit.

So, thanks USPS for joining the price-gouge parade and driving the super-small businessman further into the fringes of the black-market economy.

For my part and doubtless the thousands of others who will follow, Amazon will get a taste of this when I de-list several hundred small items from my current listings.

I know Amazon is in no danger from this and that they don’t care.

Everytime Amazon ups the amount they charge buyers for shipping costs, the amount they reimburse me is supposed to increase to cover that, but in fact is always eaten up by the concurrently rising commission that Amazon, Ebay and the rest always end up charging.

So, enough’s enough.

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You can add postage to the list of things that used to be marginal, insignificant costs of living that now have gotten out of control and become luxuries: things like health coverage (remember how this used to be like, $25 a month, and that was with real insurance, not HMO crap). My family coverage—and this is not even the high-end product—is more than $500 a month. In other words, not too far from the cost of a home mortgage.

And I’m stuck with it.

Despite the spurious cost-of-living index malarkey we’re always fed (somehow the index never seems to surpass 1 percent even as gasoline, home heating oil, health insurance, car insurance and everything rises in double digits), you literally have to be Rockefeller today just to eke out a pale imitation of the decent middle-class lifestyle we had in the 1970s and before.

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A couple of bucks worth of peanuts

A can of peanuts, and I’m talking a tiny 9 ounce can of lowly Planters Cocktail nuts, pushes the $3 to $4 range.

Are you friggin’ kidding me?

And paper towels. not only are they now about the circumference of a measley baseball bat, but they all cost more than $1 each. A two-pack is more than $2.

Give me a friggin’ break.

One item that seemed to be holding the line was Vo5 Shampoo. This staple bottom-of-the-price-line hair cleaner always stayed under a dollar, but not anymore. Kroger finally succeeded in getting even that to surpass its vaunted dollar price point: $1.05.

There’s a lot of stuff I wanted to comment on regarding how this all came to be, but I just don’t have time to do the analysis.

I’m too busy trying to make enough bread to buy peanuts. Or should I call them “caviar on trees”?

-EG