de Vos: Busting up a Starbucks
February 9, 2012
“Sir, you’ve been standing in line for five minutes now. There are dozens of people behind you. Is there a problem?”
“Yes, ma’am, Starbucks advertises that it makes 87,000 different beverages. I cannot possibly decide what I shall have without considering every one of them. Personally, I like the sound of number 11,893, the White Mocha Frappuccino Tall, half-caf, whipped cream, vanilla splash with a dash of nutmeg. But I’m also intrigued by number 69,882, the Gingerbread Latte Grande, organic soy, quad, double-foam, extra-whipped. So,” I lowered my voice, “what would you recommend?”
She blinked, “I guess I’d recommend you go stand over there until you decide or the police get here. Whatever.”
According to an interesting statistic I just made up, we spend way too much time staring at rows of toothpaste, trying to decide between brighteners and whiteners.
Take breakfast cereal, for instance. Early in this great nation, oats did not come to mind much beyond horse fodder, yet, around 1897, some enterprising fellow named Post brewed a cauldron of oats into a disgusting breakfast cereal soup that never caught on. So he rolled his sleeves up and produced a bowl of Post Grape-Nuts, a cereal that for the last 106 years has contained neither grapes nor nuts.
His cereals sold well enough, but oats and grains lacked one important marketing ingredient: sugar. When manufacturers sweetened things up, it wasn’t long before they were a staple on every breakfast table in America.
Cereal barons knew intuitively what today’s scientists are beginning to suspect: Sugar is as addictive as opium. But wait, it gets worse.
Sugar is cheap to produce and at the time, Cuban sugar was flooding the market. So the solution was to add tariffs, taxes and import duties to the price of sugar. So much so, that at some point, it became more economical to turn lead to gold, or in this case, corn into High-Fructose Corn Syrup. Then the oats get drenched in HFCS until every child in America is a user, jonesing at the top of their lungs for more “product.” Hang on because it gets worse yet.
It used to be that, if we wanted to soften the blow of eating oats, we would cut up a banana or toss in some nuts or raisins. Mr. Post’s heirs looked at the bowl as half empty and added nuts and little fruity-colored chunks, a ton of sweeteners and just enough honey as to be legally able to add the word on the label.
Take a good old brand like Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats. Ignore the fact that the name consists of three unrelated words that together have no meaning whatever. But check out the flavors: There’s plain Honey Roasted and a Just Bunches Honey Roasted. That’s two. But then we also have HBofO with Almonds, HBofO with Strawberries, with Raisin Medley, with Vanilla Bunches (whatever they are), with Pecan Bunches, and with Cinnamon Bunches. Ten different flavors of just one cereal?
Did I say 10? The company just unveiled two new flavors: Banana Blueberry and Peach Raspberry. And that’s just one line of 12 different Post cereals.
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