Monday, November 30, 2015

Celestial Seasonings evicts Sleepytime bear




     "He's drunk!" my wife exclaimed, as we paused in the grocery's tea aisle to gaze in horror at the damage Celestial Seasonings has done to the packages of its popular herbal teas. "The bear's passed out, slumped against the jar of honey he's been guzzling."
      Brand extension has hit Celestial Seasonings.  The once-gently cluttered, brightly colored boxes are now awash in white space. On the shelf was one last familiar green box of "Sleepytime" tea, which I've been gulping after dinner for decades, and I pulled it over for comparison. There, the bear sat in his green chair, safe indoors, dozing before a crackling fire. A cat dozed too, a curved blue radio played, no doubt soft music.
    All gone. The bear is sleeping outside, a hobo bear.  He has been evicted, kicked out into the street, his chair and table too, set out on the curb, under the moon and stars.
    You can compare for yourself:
     I see why they did it. The new boxes are less cluttered, the word "Sleepytime" and the bear bigger, shorn of extraneous imagery. It is now "Classic Sleepytime" to differentiate from all the other brand extensions,  vanilla (bleh) and peach (double bleh) and honey (for those too busy to dip a spoon in actual honey and put it in the damn tea ourselves). 
    Celestial Seasonings must have known people would be dubious, because  "Fresh New Look" is flagged in red on the upper left of the box to tip you off that you aren't hallucinating, and aren't buying little paper baglets of chemicals, but the same blend of chamomile and spearmint, lemongrass and tilia flowers, blackberry leaves and orange blossoms that made up the herbal tea (but no actual tea, as my family learned when we toured the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder, for the simple reason there isn't any tea in it). 
    Except if you buy "Sleepytime Extra," which contains Valerian root, a folk sedative. A glimpse online shows all sorts of even more rococo Sleepytime permutations: Sleepytime Echniacea Complete Care and Sleepytime Decaf Berry Pomegranite and Sleepytime Sinus Soother. I suppose Sleepytime Bourbon is next. That's the idea behind brand extension: try to use a name you love to leverage you into buying something you don't want, plus a ploy to block out more shelf space at supermarkets.
      Sighing, we stocked up on a few of the old boxes. I floated the idea of keeping them, and just refilling from the new, blanker boxes.
     "That seems like work," my wife said, dubiously.
      Or tins, I persisted. I seem to remember Sleepytime tins. I could root around online....
      Or maybe, I realized grimly, it is time to look for a new evening tea.  To be honest, the spell is broken. I buy cans of expensive loose Twinings Earl Grey tea and not some cheaper Earl Grey because I'm confident that the stuff is what I've always been drinking, and if they dubbed it EG Classic and made the box neon blue, to not be confused with EG Proustian Lime and EG Morning Blast or whatever, I would be off put. Tea is a comfort beverage—you don't amp yourself up on tea and then hit the town—and a comfort beverage should be comforting.
     Maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm not a typical consumer. I have a certain loyalty -- Heinz ketchup not Hunts, Ritz crackers, not whatever pale rip-off imitation the store is trying to fob off on you.  It's fine to shake it up, sell Ritz's in odd holiday shapes. As long as the old standby is still readily available.
    Brand extensions must work on others, because companies push them enough. One aisle over from the revolution in tealand, I looked for Wheat Chex. When I was growing up, Chex came in three varieties: Wheat, Corn and Rice, the wheat in smaller boxes, because it is denser, more concentrated than Rice or Corn. But eventually I stopped buying the latter two because they just aren't as good. I almost never eat breakfast cereal: it's really fattening and leaves you hungry. And a generous bowl of Wheat Chex and skim milk tops out at about 500 calories, more than a jumbo donut. But still...sometimes you've just gotta have it.
    As I gazed over the profusion of Chexes (that sounds wrong; "Chex" must be both singular and plural, like "fish") I realized, to my horror, that they had chocolate and vanilla, cinnamon and clusters, even something called "Honey Nut." Everything but Wheat.
     Maybe that's what goes in the empty space on the lower shelf.
      Yes, I realize the carnival of indignity that is aging,  that the world is not skewed in your direction anymore and the stuff you care about is revealed as irrelevant idiocy. To marketers, we 55 and older might as well be dead, except for a nether world of adult undergarments and denture creams and such. Companies have to evolve to stay in business.  Someday there will be Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Pot Brew and 30 other sub-varieties and I'll point out that it used to be just one, plain old Sleepytime tea, to my grandchildren who will shrug. "Whatever gramps," they'll say, not even looking up from their electronic devices, taking all their nutrition in the form of a thick beige liquid sucked from a catheter tube. 
      These changes are a double minor shock: first you feel bad that they happened, then you feel even worse for feeling bad they happened, for being that small and nostalgic a person. And for me, I guess, a triple shock, because I also feel bad that I bothered to tell you about it. To be frank, I'm sorry I brought it up.


     Editor's note: Six months after this post, Celestial Seasonings announced it was returning to the old box. While I would never be so brash as to suggest those two events are somehow connected, cause and effect, I like to think I was part of the chorus of complaint that prompted the company to reverse its folly. 

29 comments:

  1. Yuk, chamomile is in that tea. Can't stand the taste or smell. Not all cereal is fattening. Just watch the ones that have too much sugar like those kiddie ones. My fave: honey bunches of oats with strawberry. Wheat chex? grimace

    decaf lemon teas by bigelow are good too-don't care for the fact that C.S. teas doesn't put the outer wrapper on them, if one wants to carry one out in their lunch or such

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  2. Celestial Seasonings promotes its "tea" as "caffeine free." What, I wonder, is the point?

    In England, during the 1950's, tea was industrial strength, made only from loose leaves, tea bags being regarded as an American obscenity and a threat to the Empire. The world has since moved on, there as elsewhere.

    I wonder if the CC people grew up listening to a hit song of the 20's by Richard Armstrong Whiting, father of Margaret and creator of such classics as "Hooray for Hollywood."

    "Sleepytime gal
    You're turning night into day."

    Tom Evans

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  3. Caffeine in the tea can make some people too jittery, that is the point of decaf. I have a British sister in law and yes, she said back in the last generation, tea bags were regarded as a horror. Same with heating up tea in a microwave.

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    1. Yes. And you had to bring the kettle to the pot and not the pot to the kettle. Or was it the other way around?

      TE

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    2. IIRC, the "proper" way to brew tea is to bring the pot to the kettle, never the kettle to the pot (tea to the hot water, never the hot water poured over tea, or, God forbid, tea bag.

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    3. Well in the Japanese tea ceremonies they are even fussier.

      ag

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    4. Lipton used to have good decaf flavors but not anymore. Green tea (some come flavored) is good for metabolism and you can get it in decaf as well.

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    5. Yes, the Japanese are tea nuts, but, still, it's hard to overstate the contribution the beverage makes to British culture. In British mystery stories I always wait for the mandatory scene when the Chief Inspector, interviewing a householder where a murder has been committed, says to his sidekick, "Sergeant, why you pop into the kitchen and make us a nice cupa." Whereupon, the obliging copper does so, using the occasion to snoop around the premises for clues.

      TE

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    6. Unfortunately, there are few places in the area, outside of some hotels in Chicago or Oak Brook, that serve a high tea.

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    7. I think the term you want is "afternoon tea," A customary repast supposedly created by the Duchess of Devonshire. High tea is a light supper served in the north of England and Scotland.

      TE

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  4. Kicking the bear outside is unforgivable; I like the cozy comfort of the old design. For me, drinking tea is for relaxation and medicinal purposes, thus no caffeine needed or desired.

    When my son was younger, but old enough to know better, we hit the cereal aisle with trepidation, trying to find a good-tasting (for him) cereal that was somewhat sweetened but somewhat healthy. Now he's 25 and still goes for the sugary stuff like Fruity Pebbles (ugh) which is misleading and should be called Sugar Pebbles with a Little Fruity Flavor or some such thing. I prefer a touch of sweetness myself, but trend toward Honey Nut Chex or one of the Quaker brand multigrain cereals (Peach Apple Walnut for example). But a little goes a long way (calories).

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    1. P.S. We use Twinings, Celestial Seasonings or Bigelow, and I like to sample the new teas at our Teavana in Woodfield.

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    2. Fuck everybody who doesn't appreciate this denigration of a beautiful image. drinkng herbal tea is not much better than hot water--we came for the bear--with cat radio and all! Its totally offensive to turn it aesthetic, to make it into some fashionable spare thing. Thanks for noting this fell development!

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  5. Neil: according to Trollope, Thackery was the kind of person who was compelled to tell everyone everything that was bothering him. Sure glad that you share that compulsion. Some of your best work has been basically bitching about problems that don't bother me at all.

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    1. That's comforting Tate. Maybe I'll unleash my column condemning mixing various types of breakfast cereals in one bowl. "That's miscegenation!" I'll howl.

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    2. No need to point out, I suppose, where pearls come from.

      TE

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    3. Thackery- didn't he write a poem with the repetition of the words "a that" in it? Couldn't find it on the net, remember it from a book I saw in my childhood.

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    4. Scratch that- it was Robert Burns, here's a stanza. Tom, I'm sure you would have known of this piece.

      A Man's A Man For A' That

      1795

      Is there for honest Poverty
      That hings his head, an' a' that;
      The coward slave-we pass him by,
      We dare be poor for a' that!
      For a' that, an' a' that.
      Our toils obscure an' a' that,
      The rank is but the guinea's stamp,
      The Man's the gowd for a' that.

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  6. Yeah, and what about that whole Marshall Field's disappearance?

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  7. I just saw Wheat Chex in the store the other day. Try a different Jewels.

    Myself I am fond of Grape Nuts Flakes, which I can only find at Mariano's; Post-Oh!s, which apparently are only sold at Target or Wal-Mart; and Kashi 7 Whole Grain Honey Puffs, which are apparently unavailable except online.

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  8. Kudos to NS, he got a nice reader review in the paper today from someone in Chicago in regards to the Laquan article.

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  9. I realize that a next-day comment on the ole EGD will draw about as many readers as a message in a bottle delivered directly to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. However, when our intrepid traveling talesman, Willy Steinberg, sets down his briefcase after wearying weeks of thanklessly peddling reason with regard to gun violence, concern for refugees, thoughts about the hopeless financial condition of this state, interest in treating folks of other religions as we'd like to be treated, etc., and turns to opining about tea and breakfast cereal -- well, I feel that attention must be paid. ; )

    Sadly, "I almost never eat breakfast cereal: it's really fattening and leaves you hungry." seems about as off-base as anything I've seen our host write. I can't speak to what leaves others hungry, of course, or personal taste, but I eat cereal almost every day and find a bowl with skim milk and fresh fruit to be about the quickest, easiest, healthiest breakfast you can have. There are enough non-sugary options out there that are fine sources of whole-grain nutrition and to compare it to a jumbo donut - one of the unhealthiest wastes of calories around, boggles my mind.

    As for the vaunted Twinings tea, I'm too much of a weenie to go for the loose, but the most recent box of Twinings English Breakfast bags we bought listed Kenya, Indonesia, Assam, Malawi and China as the possible sources. Alas, I don't have an old box to compare it to, but I'm pretty sure that they didn't list 5 countries in the past -- or China, at all. To me, that's the marketer's way of saying "we're getting our tea cheap from China, like every other product you buy these days, but let's pretend like it might have come from Assam, like it used to."

    Finally, (I know - about time!) to the point at hand. I'm about as cynical a bastard as you're likely to find, in the dreaded "55 and older" category referred to by NS, but I've also long been a fan of Sleepytime. Such that we actually possess one of the metal tins he alluded to and I may have once cut off the top of one of the cardboard boxes to place as an artistic element above my desk. "A comfort beverage should be comforting." Indeed, and just glancing at that night-capped chap dozing next to his radio is about as comforting as any tea I've ever had. Suffice it to say that wrenching that overgrown cub from his friendly confines and exiling him to a cold, blank, marketer's Hell is a misguided abomination beyond reason or measure. What, the younger generation raised on movie-length cartoons, wildly overblown movies made about comic-book characters, books and movies centered around fantasy worlds that make Mayberry seem like Hell's Kitchen, video games and clubs that are fantasy-this and fantasy-that... such folks are gonna be put off by a cute picture of a bear in his anthropomorphic den?

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    1. That's a tad harsh, is it not, Jakash? None of this is the pulsing center of the culture, is it? Still, well said -- maybe you should post something on today's page, directing people to it (I'd do it, but I'd be accused of playing favorites). As far as cereal being filling, I guess that depends on how much fruit you pile on.

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    2. Well, you don't mention which part was harsh, NS -- I thought I was just being my lame version of witty, as I am usually attempting to be, with the usual poor results. I thought the Willy Loman reference was a bit of fun, but not in a detrimental way. [(Traveling talesman? C'mon!) ; )] I did think your Wheat Chex vs. donut comparison was odd, though, and the fact that the stakes are so small is why I figured I could go off on that rant. I thought you might find the Twinings report interesting and I agreed with you wholeheartedly about the Sleepytime, which was the main point. In case it wasn't clear, that last paragraph wasn't meant to be sarcastic at all. As for mentioning this on today's page, I don't imagine many would care and if you read it, that's plenty good enough for me. : ) BTW, and FWIW, I also tried to post a comment in the cabin and it said it was being held for moderation, I guess...

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  10. Well I read the older posts. Do agree that the right cereal with some fruit is less fattening than many other breakfast choices.

    A.

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  11. Looking forward to seeing your comments on the Sun. 11/29 U. of C. blog story, J., along with today's blog. Now that you are back from your world cruise I presume, get reading already....

    A few other people are looking for you on the off topic blog too.

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    1. I did say that U of C was wrong to shut down. But there is more I want to say, about whether we really need to "take these things seriously."

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  12. I’m glad reading your blog style .

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  13. I completely agree with you. The new Celestial Seasonings packaging is terrible. It's utilitarian, stripped-down, unfriendly and there's nothing celestial about it. They might as well rename it F You. Supposedly this was done "to appeal to millennials."
    I had the same idea about the heritage tins. Wonder if we could petition or something.

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