Dumbest packaging ever?

by Andrea Karim on 27 August 2008 26 comments

I understand the need for clean, sterile packaging of food. We live in an era (soon to be ending, mind you, if you believe the peak oil people) in which food travels great distances before it arrives in the massive grocery stores where we purchase it. It is true that frozen peas need to be placed in some kind of container for shipping, and a plastic bag or a thin carboard box are currently appropriate methods for keeping all those rolling green balls in a single package.

However, we'd be naive to think that our food is merely grown, harvested, processed and packaged. The agro-industrial complex is alive and functioning, and millions of dollars of research and thousands of man-hours go into determining the best packaging for, say, a can of beef stew.

I understand the business need to keep consumers interested in buying your products, but there's a side to the food marketing that really bugs the heck out of me. And that's the way in which the same food is repackaged in a novel way, and pitched to the consumer in such a way that makes it seem like we just HAVE to have it, when in fact:

  • only actual difference is the packaging
  • the packaging causes the food item to cost more
  • the packaging is unbearably superfluous

Take Blueberry Blasters, which I saw recently at a local Safeway. One normal package of blueberries had been split up into four individual... well, servings, I guess. It's sort of hard to describe the containers used without giggling a bit. A plastic narrow cylinder about four inches tall is topped off by a big plastic blueberry that serves as the lid for the bottle. The cylinder has holes punched in it so that you can rinse the blueberries in the bottle without having to go to the trouble of removing them and washing them.

The cost of four of these oddly-phallic containers of blueberries rang in at around $7. Seven dollars??! This is the same weight and class of blueberries that come in less sexy plastic boxes, which cost between $2-4 (in season).

I can't, for the life of me, figure out why the current method used to prepare and eat blueberries is so arduous as to necessitate the repackaging of these fruits into lidded tubes for easier consumption. Which part is difficult? Is it removing the berries from the plastic box to wash them? Is it touching the berries directly with your fingers that turns people away from fruit?

What marketing bozo was sitting around one day and suddenly said to himself, "You know what's really hard to eat? Berries! If they only came in a sort of tube that I could use to pour them directly into my mouth...."

I was similarly irked by Gogurt a few years ago. I can understand similar packaging for frozen, drippy treats, like popsicles, but since when did raising a spoon from yogurt container to mouth get to be so difficult that we need to suck yogurt from a flexible tube? How long before we end up like the humans in Wall-E, crusing around on hovering scooter, too fat to walk, simply slurping our meals through a plastic straw?

And there's no actual blasting going on in Blueberry Blasters, unless I misunderstood the instructions for the containers. You're not (thankfully) able to use some sort of air gun to shoot blueberries across the room into someone's mouth. The blueberries themselves, while no doubt very tasty, don't explode in your mouth like Pop Rocks (again, thankfully). It's just a stupid alliteration that some poor copywriter was forced to come up with.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW

Besides being shocking waste of marketing and sales time and materials (how much plastic do you NEED to sell someone a few ounces of blueberries?), Blueberry Blasters are just another product in a long line of products that serve to remind you just how little time you have left to do anything. Feeling the pressure to work extra hours or more than one job so that you can afford your mortgage or health care? Carting kids around to a variety of sports and hobbies? Overstretched with volunteer activities? No time left to do things like allow produce to come into contact with your outer epidermal layer? Don't worry! We've created an even easier way to get your nutrients without performing tedious, time-consuming tasks like food-prep.

I can just envision a commercial touting this product as an "on-the-go" kind of snack, but really, aren't blueberries ALREADY an on-the-go kind of snack? I mean, the darn things have a skin that keeps all the insides neatly contained, are easily washed, don't require peeling or slicing or de-seeding - they're just about the most easily-eaten item in nature.

What's next? Pre-masticated bananas wrapped in plastic so we don't work our jaws too hard? IV drips for beer? Wait. Well, that one might actually be OK.

Of course, the stupidity of re-packing blueberries to make it more fun and appealing is that it doesn't actually save you any time. Pre-sliced apples almost make some kind of sense, even if the time saving is less than a minute, but blueberries? You still have to wash the blueberries before eating them, and you will still have to use one or more appendages to lift the container to your mouth. The only advantage to eating Blueberry Blasters is that you get to tip the berries into your mouth from a blue-tipped phallic tube. The shape of the container makes me wonder if the design wasn't the result of some kind of wager ("Dude, I'll bet you a six-pack of Alaskan Amber that you can't get a vaguely penile-like container through the design process without someone noticing" "Oh, yeah? You're on!"). Oh, and you get to pay more for the honor.

Listen, I'm not terrible busy in life; I've mostly limited my hobbies to drinking and napping. I don't have any children to care for, or a partner to worry about - so things are more or less easy for me. But even with all that ease, sometimes I feel too tired after a long day of work to make dinner from scratch, and prepared foods are a life-saver. But there's a point where I draw the line, and Blueberry Blasters stepped WAY over that line.

I keep Googling "Blueberry Blasters" to see if it's some kind of hoax created to get bloggers with too much time on their hands riled up over stupid packaging, but alas, I have found nothing. Has anyone else seen these little gems while shopping?

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Guest's picture
dianna

ha, that's pretty lame. but i know why they do it -- packages like this are aimed at people eating in their cars. because lifting a spoon of yogurt to your mouth IS difficult when roaring down the highway, late for work. ditto eating out of a box of blueberries without staining your hands and shirt blue.

i'm not saying it's a great idea, i'm just saying where the thought process is. because everyone is late sometimes, and if everyone just ONCE dashes into the market one morning for a porto-breakfast that doesn't require utensils or even perfect aim and decides on a bottle of blueberries, they've made their million. i've noticed with this kind of thing that it doesn't last, though. after the people who are likely to eat expensive road-berries have eaten them a couple of times and lost interest, they'll go back off the market.

until the next thing. willy wonka would make millions with his pill that tastes like a whole meal concept, he just had bad marketing.

Guest's picture
Terry

Andrea,

I, too, saw this product at Safeway recently. Even in the sea of overpackaged food items in our modern grocery stores, Blueberry Blasters somehow managed to stand out. If it weren't so sad, it would be laughable.

Thanks for publicizing it. You've given me the nudge I needed to find out who sells it and give them a little feedback.

Andrea Karim's picture

The label said "Nature's Pantry", although I can't verify which company EXACTLY makes it, as there is certainly more than one Nature's Pantry out there.

I can totally see eating berries in my car - but it seems just as eas to pick them up and put them in my mouth. But I get where they are going with it - even then, it seems like it could have been better designed. :)

Because I bought these darn things so I could take them home and photograph them, I had to go through the checkout stand. The guy who rung me up looked at them and asked me a whole bunch of questions "Are these dried or something? Why are they packaged like that?". I tried to explain that I had no idea and would be blogging about them, but you could tell he didn't believe me.  

 

Guest's picture
Sarah

After going through several jaw surgeries, I've really come to appreciate Go-gurt. When you have to suck all of your meals through a tube anyway, it's nice to find one that comes prepackaged.

Guest's picture
Guest

Go-gurt (or, Horizon Farms' version, which doesn't have high fructose corn syrup) is great frozen! Better for you than ice cream!

Guest's picture
Mary

I would guess the point of this packaging would be to put it in children's lunches. I haven't seen any advertising for this product but I would guess it would be marketed in that way. Just a thought!

Guest's picture
Brigid

From my experience, blueberries in a container like that would go bad pretty fast. Imagine dumping moldy blueberries into your mouth while cruising on the highway. Not pretty.

Guest's picture
Guest

My best WTF? item was Smucker's frozen PB&J sandwiches. How much effort do they take to make?

Guest's picture
Guest

Aww. My boyfriend's dad who has alzheimer's eats these. They are one of the few things he can eat by himself, without making messy (really, taking the mess out of PBJs is quite a feat!) But yeah, other than that and maybe toddlers eating without making a mess, I'd agree that these are a useless and overpriced invention.

Guest's picture
Guest

Oops, I meant for that to reply to the Smucker's product, not Blasters. Blasters are inherently a ripoff P.O.S.

Guest's picture

I like Go-Gurt too--I can get the big boxes from Costco, they're super-convenient as a snack at home (yes, I'm too lazy to go dig out a spoon) and on the go (car, etc.), and the portion sizes are smaller. I know plain low-fat yogurt is probably healthier, but it's way less convenient. I don't drink milk so I'm calcium-deficient and any enticement to consume more calcium is a plus. (Go-Gurt is only good when frozen, though. Thawed, it just tastes like cheap kids' yogurt. And yes, I could go buy a tub of yogurt and divide it into small portions to freeze, but who has the time for that hassle?)

Guest's picture
FrugalZen

...."there's a sucker born every minute".

While this sort of packaging is WAY over the top and inane to those who actually THINK about things like that the reality is for another 30 cents worth of Plastic and Paper they can LITERALLY Double what they charge for the product inside.

While you and I find it over the top the manufacturer and the store are both laughing all the way to the bank.

~ Roland

Guest's picture
Kevin

...but it's undoubtedly aimed at kids. Give the kids a healthy snack, try to keep them from getting purplish/bluish blueberry stains all over their hands, clothing, etc. - a dubious proposition at best.

I can only ASSUME that this product is being test marketed. Go back in 4-5 months and it won't be there... most likely.

Some convenience packaging makes a great deal of sense - but I don't think that's the case here. And in a subtle way, buying stuff like this teaches kids a bad lesson about value and frugality.

As for the shape... yikes. Someone in the packaging department was having a bit of fun.

Fun post - thanks.

Guest's picture
Guest

This is hilarious. I believe I have made a similar rant on any number of ridiculous packaged products. An even more disturbing thought is where does all the packaging go when empty? No one will recycle it. It's just going to be added to the mountains of trash....

Guest's picture
Barb

I agree with others that the Gogurt packaging is meant for kids - they have really funky sweet flavors targeted at kids(so they taste less like yogurt). We give them to our son in his lunch. They contain less, but it's a good amount for him and he doesn't have to worry if he forgets a spoon. We have gotten the PB&J sandwiches from the freezer section - they don't really taste that great, but have been lifesavers when we realize on a school morning that we have run out of bread! The advertisers are tapping into the laziness of consumers and their feelings of not having enough time-to split up large packages of food into single servings... The majority of the people who buy these items regularly don't even realize that they are being charged double for the convenience(they are also the ones who don't use coupons either, or buy stuff on sale).

Guest's picture

it's pretty sad to see that products are still over-packaged - i don't notice too much since i usually frequent the smaller grocery stores where packaging consists of someone in the back putting a plastic saran wrap over a pint of berries. i agree with some of the comments - it's all about making a profit for the stores and the manufacturers, but what's even worse is that consumers believe in the marketing gimmick and buy these products.

thanks for the great post.

Guest's picture

I would be terrified of the "blueberry blasters" because I can just see the blueberries getting stuck, rather than blasting as planned, and then I tap the plastic thing on my tooth to loosen them and break a tooth. Or the blueberries THEN blast, en masse, to the back of my throat and choke me. Which, if I were driving, could create quite a road hazard.

And then there's the risk of depression from paying $1.75 for each tube of blueberries, and then throwing all that plastic away.

The maker appears to be Nature's Partner - http://www.naturespartner.com/TheProduce/Blueberries/. But they don't own up to the "blasters" on their verdant-looking Web site.

Andrea Karim's picture

Oh, thanks - I had already recycled the stupid tubes, so I didn't check the label carefully enough.

I don't think there's too much danger in choking - no more so then when you normally eat berries. The opening was large enough that I don't imagine it would get stuck.

Guest's picture
David C

Just remember most food is packaged to jump off the shelf. Nutrition is sadly not EVEN second in the marketing scheme. I think this could be a knee jerk reaction to the trend that people might not want give their children food from the junk food group of sugar, salt, fat and starch.

Guest's picture
Mary

These blueberries are appalling. I hate even the square plastic package they normally come in. It says it's recyclable, but our recyclers won't take it.

Recently I saw hard-boiled eggs, peeled and packed in plastic, 6 for $2.99. I suppose they would be useful if you needed a quick snack and didn't have access to a stove, but really, eggs are already prepackaged, and boiling them takes very little brain.

Guest's picture
Lucille

I can't imagine buying that even for our kids. Buy large package of blueberries, rinse and put into those reusable plastic containers (rubbermaid, glad reusables). I refused to buy go-gurts any longer last year. So the kids put yogurt into a plastic container and grabbed a spoon to put in their lunch. Maybe my kids are more cooperative when it comes to food?

Some of the ready made things like individual bags of carrots, string cheese or pre-peeled boiled eggs. I will pick those up if I am traveling at a grocery or convenience store rather than buying fast food. I wouldn't when at home though.

Guest's picture

Blueberries are crazy expensive anyways...there's no way I'm going to fork over the money for those plastic encased ones!

Guest's picture
Elizabeth

I wonder how safe they are? With all the food recalls we've seen in the past few years, I'm not going to put any produce in my mouth that I haven't washed myself!

The thing I really hate about this product is that it encourages us to inhale our food rather than take the time to enjoy it. I shouldn't be able to "chug" something as expensive as blueberries.

Guest's picture

That's awfully silly. I'd much rather buy my blue berries from the farmers market out of a paper sack. The dirtier the better :)

Guest's picture
Rebecac

Some schools, sadly, don't allow for utensils in school lunches. A friend's child was repremanded for a metal spoon (was told to bring plastic) because it could be used to hurt someonem, so gogurt and other convenience packaging is the only way to try and send things for lunch. Kids have been expelled over butter knives.

Andrea Karim's picture

That's a shame, because I would assume that taking a plastic spoon to school to eat a more natural yogurt would be preferrable to eating a Gogurt.