The desperation of food makers is showing.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal chronicled a food crisis happening in America’s food aisles: we’re not buying packaged foods anymore.
“The classic consumer food companies—makers of cereals, snacks, soups and condiments—are no longer the staples of pantries or portfolios,” the story says. “Shares of some are down by a third or more over the past year as strategies to boost sales fail, and consumers embrace fresh food and new brands.”
That’s left manufacturers scrambling to come up with foods that can entice consumers in from the perimeter to the technicolor bags and boxes that beckon from the shelf-stable sections.
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So for fun, I strolled the aisles—it’s what I consider a splendid evening—looking at all of the newer packaged food options I had not seen before in order to get an idea of what America’s food manufacturers are making in response to their sales slump. It didn’t take me long to realize why, perhaps, people aren’t buying things and bolstering bottom lines. So many of these foods are just plain ludacris and getting more ridiculous by the day. Here’s my 100% opinion-based list of the top offenders.
Southern Biscuits & Gravy Potato Chips
I suspect you won’t find these crispy curiosities above the Mason-Dixon line, but down here, these breakfast-themed bags of chips are presented without irony alongside classic fried potato options, like Sour Cream & Onion and Barbecue. Biscuits and gravy shouldn’t come in chip form. I want buttermilk biscuits, fresh from the oven, and I want rich sausage gravy, straight from the cast-iron skillet. “Biscuits and gravy” isn’t a natural flavor for anything save, of course, actual biscuits and gravy. I’m not going to tell my grandmother this exists. She might say an off-color word.
No one on God’s green Earth will ever convince me there’s any compelling reason to take hummus—a classic and savory Middle Eastern dip/spread—and make it sweet. If you want a sweet goopy spread, eat frosting. If you want to kid yourself with “at least it’s a vegetable,” go eat an actual vegetable. (Also, I’d hardly count legume-based hummus as a vegetable.) Your body will thank you for the extra vitamins and minerals—and for sparing you whatever this food concoction is.
Every Flavor of Cheerios Except Classic and Honey Nut
Cereal sales have been slumping for years. Manufacturers try to innovate by following trends and predicting what the next flavor leaders will be. Cheerios, my friends, it’s time to stop. Listen, I’ve tried just about everything you offer, and they’re all quite good. But each time I walk into the cereal section, I discover yet another iteration you’ve released and I can’t help but wonder why the classics just aren’t good enough for you anymore. It’s like that person on Facebook who posts yet another album of filtered selfies for the whole world to see when we all know they’re beautiful as is. You can stop now. You really can—especially with Protein Cheerios. That’s just several bridges too far.
Lucky Charms Frosted Flakes
Speaking of absurd cereal ideas, who sat in a meeting at General Mills and said, “You know what this sugar-coated cereal needs? More sugar!” I’m a fan of both Lucky Charms and Frosted Flakes, but this marriage is ready for a legal separation. That royal blue box and cartoon tiger are inextricably tied to memories of eating breakfast with my great-grandfather. It’s special to me. But your desperation for a next killer cereal idea is showing, and it’s not pretty.
Simply Organic White Cheddar Doritos
If you’ve ever been noshing away on a bag of Doritos after, say, a long night of “video games,” I suspect you’ve never stopped yourself mid crunch and said aloud, “You know, it would be really gnarly if these chips were organic, dude.” I admire your tenacity, Doritos. In a world obsessed with sourcing and avoiding unnecessary chemicals and byproducts, you took a punk-rock kid of a product and tried to shape it up for an office job. But some kids just aren’t meant for the suit-and-tie life, my friend; they are what they are.
I’m old enough to remember when Double Stuf was a serious innovation. I even wholeheartedly embraced Peanut Butter. But today, with flavors like Hot & Spicy Cinnamon, Pina Colada, and Cherry Cola, I feel like we need to stage an intervention for an old friend. The latest release (for today, anyway) is Firework Oreo, a traditional cookie with popping candy in the creamy stuffing. Based on the volume of headlines I see every time a new flavor is released, however, I suspect Oreo is nowhere near stopping this flavor assault. Just please, no savory Oreos.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese with Cauliflower (Added to the) Pasta
I commend the dedication to trend chasing. I just don’t understand where the idea for cauliflower pasta came from when what you really should have been discussing is creating The Incredibles mac and cheese. (A serious missed opportunity here, guys!) I suspect for parents who would offer their soul on an altar of cruciferous vegetables, this is a dream come true. One-quarter cup of veggies is in each serving. Great! If they eat four servings, they are halfway to their daily goal of two to three servings.
I Heart Keenwah Chocolate Puffs
This brand has several wonderfully crisp popped quinoa treats. The Aged Cheddar Puffs are tremendously flavorful and make a really great snack for toddlers. (A certain precious one-year-old cousin of mine conquered a bag I had recently.) What isn’t understandable, however, is the need for coating these whole-grain puffs with chocolate. It’s a play to the sweets-craving tendencies of Americans, I suspect, but most Americans won’t be swayed that popped grains coated with chocolate are as splendid as their, say, Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie Oreo.
The same goes for you, BIENA chocolate-coated chickpeas. I suspect those chickpeas would live a much better life as hummus—the savory kind only, of course.
Sweet Heat Skittles
The world most likely didn’t need “Fruit Flavors with a Spicy Kick.” Anyone who has accidentally picked up an errant bag or two of your various flavors, dear Skittles, like Wild Berry or Tropical, knows that sometimes, the classic is number one for a reason. This abomination wasn’t necessary. (What is necessary, however, is Skittles Jelly Beans, and if you all would please return my calls on this matter, I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you.)