Off the shelf

by Bryan Salvage
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Have you ever been surprised or upset after a meat or poultry product you really liked suddenly disappeared from the grocers’ shelves or menu? Most recently, I was in a supermarket looking for something I really enjoyed as a kid and had bought sporadically over the decades since childhood — Oscar Mayer Sandwich Spread…and I was disappointed that none of the stores that used to carry it had this product in their refrigerated meat shelves any longer. I guess it was discontinued or is no longer carried by grocery stores in my geographic area. I have even seen posts on the Internet titled “What happened to Oscar Mayer Sandwich Spread?”

As has always been the case, food products come and go both at retail and in foodservice. There are many examples of meat or poultry products that have disappeared, or more aptly—have been discontinued, over the years, according to on-line sources. Some of them include Armour Beef Tripe, Bryan Beef Tamales, Campbell’s Chunky Chili Beef Soup, Chef Boyardee Pizza Sausage Kit, College Inn Chicken Noodle Dinner, French’s Italian Meatball Mix, Healthy Choice Chili Beef Soup, Libby’s Chili, No Beans, McCormick Chili Kits, Oscar Mayer Chili Dogs and Sandwich Spread and Stagg Corned Beef Hash, just to mention a few.

On the fast-food side, there are also offerings that have been discontinued or are no longer served in the US. One such product was one of my favorites for that particular chain—McDonald’s f Angus burger line. Other McDonald’s products that have dropped from their menus in years past include its Arch Deluxe, McDLT, Cheddar Melt, Chicken Fajitas, Fried Roast Beef Sandwich, hot dogs and McWraps, among others. Meanwhile, rival Burger King dropped its BK Toppers line of cheeseburgers; Chef's Choice burger, and Burger Shots, among others. Every fast-food chain has dropped menu items along the way.

Nothing stays the same, and this applies to both meat and poultry products, as well as where they are sold. Why do products disappear? Some simply don’t live up to customer expectations that were created by the advertising and marketing hype and thus, don’t get repeat sales. Such was the case with one line of shelf-stable microwaveable entrées containing meat that was launched decades ago by a leading processor. Based on the barrage of advertising promo information I received regularly at that time, I was expecting a fine-tasting, restaurant-quality menu item, but instead got something that tasted like an over-retorted canned meat product. This product didn’t last very long before it was pulled.

Other times, a new product may enter the market as the last in a long line of existing products that taste, look and are priced similarly—in other words, there were no points of difference from the competition. And sorry, some products just didn’t taste good (too salty or too bland, among other things) or did not serve a consumer need or desire. Other dropped entries were too expensive or their shelf-life may have been too short for some consumers who shop no more than once a week, if even that.

Over the years, I have always gotten a chuckle from operations and plant managers when I visit them and ask how many SKUs their facility makes and inevitably some would answer, “too many” as they chuckled in jest. True, some plants offer hundreds of SKUs.

So, when should a company discontinue or retire a given product? The most sensible answer is when it is no longer profitable or it continues to bleed sales and/or market share. One time an operations manager confided in me that one of their traditional products hasn’t been selling well for decades. When I asked why they continued offering it, he replied wryly, “Because it’s the founder’s wife’s recipe.”

Company founder’s wife or not...if a particular product isn’t selling well, why continue offering it?

Lately, in this new age of creating healthier foods, I’ve tasted some products that should be retired. I have nothing against the healthy-foods movement that urges processors to use more healthful ingredients and to ditch those perceived as unhealthy, but when a product is reformulated to the point it no longer tastes like it used to…that’s sad and a losing proposition for the long-term.

There’s a chance your favorite meat or poultry product may also someday disappear. But don’t fret. Continue to enjoy them as long as you can, but always be on the lookout for new products to try for the first time. You never know — the next new product you try may quickly become your favorite.

Speaking as a consumer, I wish processors would send out a brief press release notifying their customers and consumers that they intend to discontinue offering a particular product due to lackluster sales, a change in product strategy—whatever the reason might be. This way, those consumers who were fans of the dropped product will not be forced to go from store to store — or going on-line —in hopes of finding it.
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READER COMMENTS (1)

By Donna M Nastek 12/18/2014 8:52:41 PM
I miss Sandwich Spread, I used to buy it all the time.