Try it. Who knows, you may even like it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The biggest news on Sunday

By Dick Hirsch

This is one of those times when I’ve decided to save the best for first. For a lot of people it is routine to go in the other direction. They insist on saving the best for last, an approach I’ve employed in certain appropriate situations. But not today.

Here is the best part: readers of the Sunday paper value the cents off coupons more than the stories.

It grieves me to write that sentence but it doesn’t surprise me. Some time ago I noticed that in sorting through the various sections each week I was giving priority to the chain drugstore ads rather than the news sections. That is a sad confession for someone who has spent most of his career putting ink on paper.

How do I know this about the preferences of readers of the Sunday paper? It’s no secret. The editor revealed it in one of her occasional columns designed to embrace the readers. She discovered it while observing the responses of members of two focus groups being interrogated by a marketing researcher. When asked what they liked best about the Sunday paper, the unanimous reply was “coupons.”

The big shots observing the session---publisher, president, editor and other executives---were all shocked and perhaps mortified, the editor wrote. She explained that the editors and reporters considered the Sunday edition their weekly showpiece, reserving the most compelling or informative materials for that day.

They shouldn’t have been surprised. Rather, they should have been gratified because they played a critical role in promoting that attitude. They elevated savings coupons to a primary position, perhaps even more important than the news and features. For several years the Buffalo News had posters mounted on the steel boxes dispensing papers with copy often like this: “$189 worth of free coupons this week,” or similar message.

That campaign conveyed the feeling to readers that the coupons were THE reason to buy the paper, not just a reason, but THE reason. When the number of boxes on the street was reduced as circulation dropped, similar messages regularly were plastered on page one, atop the masthead. There is no more prominent position. It was usually printed in color and reported the value of all the coupons that had appeared in the paper that week. Some newspaper executive or a committee had decided that the number of coupons was a positive factor, worth emphasizing. They were trying to convince people to buy the paper because the buyer could benefit financially by redeeming coupons that were worth more than the cost of a subscription. They were hoping and wishing the strategy would work in attracting new readers and perhaps some new coupon advertisers.

You surely are aware of the adage that advises: “Be careful what you wish for.” Caution about wishing has frequently been urged because the possibility was that you might end up actually getting your wish but later regretting the result. Of course composer Buddy DeSylva had a different view when he wrote about wishing: “Wishing will make it so, just keep on wishing and cares will go...”

But times were simpler then. The main product for newspapers really was the news, although there have always been subscribers who were attracted by the ads. A top editor once told me the ads were news, too, and anyone in the editorial department should understand that. However, I can’t imagine the editor of a major newspaper of that period worrying about the views expressed in some market research project.

Today’s newspapers are in a tenuous state; years ago they were able to fend off the competition of television and maintain their role as the leading news source, but the Internet has proven to be a more virulent foe. Newspapers are supplying a very large share of the news available on the Internet but most of the papers have been timid and have not yet found a way to derive profit from that service.

Oh, no! Is this going to be another column about the bleak future outlook for the daily papers? I didn’t start out that way but I do worry about the prospect of growing old without a paper to read.

What about the importance of coupons? Hey, when demand for your product is declining, any factor that results in satisfying a customer and motivating a purchase must be considered positive. The quest continues. A week after the public disclosure of the focus group, the red headline on page one read: “$845 in savings inside today’s paper.”


Monday, August 08, 2011

All the tea is not in China

By Dick Hirsch

It appeared to be such a simple process that few people ever required assistance. They dropped a few tea bags into a pitcher, poured in boiling water and allowed the mixture to steep for a period of time, during which they might occasionally check the color of the liquid as an indicator of the strength of the mixture.

When it had cooled and attained a preferred amber glow, they put some ice cubes in a glass which was then filled to the brim with the brew. The resulting beverage, allowed to stand for a minute or so until it became thoroughly chilled, was iced tea, a popular potion at any time, but especially during warm weather.

It couldn’t be simpler: add a little sweetener or lemon and perhaps a touch of mint, and you have created an elegant, satisfying and inexpensive thirst quencher. It is a standby in restaurants and homes of every status. (The instructions would be somewhat different for those purists who have never accepted tea bags and continue to use loose tea or those who use a powdered formulation.)

Tea has been in an enviable position for years. Either hot or iced, it is the world’s second most popular beverage. It far outranks coffee, beer, colas and wine, and is surpassed only by water. In most parts of the world, no matter the climate or season, it is served hot.

I mention this because there have been some dramatic developments in the past 20 years that have placed the tea merchants in the US on the defensive. They have watched as the sale of bottled or canned teas was introduced, creating a whole new market. Perhaps it was the influence of the ubiquitous bottle of water, sipped in the car, at the desk or on virtually any occasion, that aided in the splurge of support for bottled tea. Brands like AriZona, Snapple, Nestea and Lipton have developed millions of loyal customers.

Has that caused concern among the mainstream tea processors? Do they perceive the bottled products as a menace? What do you think?

I just recently became aware of an Internet effort, a web site sponsored by Salada, a leading tea brand. It can be seen at and, in a soft-spoken approach characteristic of a tea-drinker, it cites all the positives of the normal teas versus the negatives of bottled tea. Salada claims normal teas contain 90 percent more antioxidants than the bottled brands and less sugar. Additionally there is a major expense difference, Salada says, placing the cost of home brewed iced tea at about 18 cents a serving. The tea maker also invokes the environment and wasteful clutter, estimating that some 138 billion bottles of various liquids are dumped in landfills every year.

Tea is on menus worldwide. Most drinkers think it originated in China and some of it does, but other sources include places like Sri Lanka, Kenya, India and Indonesia.

People are shocked when I tell them that my favorite brand, Red Rose, as well as its competitor, Salada, are actually produced and packaged just down the New York State Thruway in Little Falls. It’s a comfortable little city on the Erie Canal, most famous as the location of Lock 17, the deepest lock on the canal. Manufacturers have deserted many of the cities along the canal, but Redco Foods, Inc. is still flourishing in Little Falls, in a sturdy 19th century building that sits on Hansen Island, a tiny islet in the Mohawk River. The interior of the facility has been enhanced and outfitted with the latest food-handling and packaging equipment and from that loading dock are shipped cases containing packages of black, green, white and various specialty flavored teas, both as teabags and as packets of loose leaves.

The plant has an interesting history, originally built in 1874 to produce Junket, a custard concoction that your mother probably spooned into your mouth when you were wearing a bib. Junket is still made there in different flavors and consistencies and apparently remains a favorite of young children and certain knowledgeable adults.

Redco is a subsidiary of Teekanne GmbH of Dusseldorf, Germany, which occupies a pedestal in the tea industry, as the company that invented the flow-through teabag and as the largest maker of herbal and flavored teas in Europe.

My own tea consumption is occasional but varied, including an occasional glass brewed at home, an occasional swig of AirZona or an occasional bottle of Snapple. Is anyone still reading tea leaves?