Saturday, March 9, 2019

The Saturday Snapshot #30

     Of course the boys loved Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Easy, cheap, I would prepare it for them on the stove and maybe leave a few tablespoons for myself in the pot, a guilty pleasure craftily consumed between the stove and the sink while they were focusing on lapping up their dinners.
    Lately, Kraft Mac & Cheese has been out, in favor of other, newer, better M & Cs. Over Christmas I was dispatched to Jewel to pick up this Banza stuff—it has lots of protein and few carbs, or so I'm told. As often happens, I was dispatched on my mission thinking I was collecting one product and found myself confronting three: these blue, red and orange boxes, containing confusingly similar foodstuffs. I dutifully sent home a photo of my choices, and picked one, but forgot to buy enough. The younger kid plows through it.
     Shortly thereafter, I read of the troubles of Heinz Kraft, which lost $15 billion of valuation in one day in late February. The merger of two years earlier hadn't helped, it hurt. Of course it did. Smaller companies always come up the Next Thing, because they can make the nimble, daring choices that behemoths balk at.
    It gave me pause, to see our own little private shift, magnified 100 million times and reflected in giant economic doings. We think of there being a separation between our private sphere and the public realm. They feel separate, like fish bowls bobbing in the ocean. But the division is imaginary; the glass isn't there. It's all one big ocean.
    Banza was founded five years ago, in the Detroit apartment of Brian Rudolph, who thought, with all this gluten aversion, that pasta could be made with chick peas instead of wheat.  Why Kraft couldn't do that is a mystery. Or, more damningly, not a mystery. They introduced their Mac & Cheese in 1937. Why screw with success? (Spoiler alert: because if you don't, the world changes and you lose).
     Sometimes the world changes fast, sometimes slow. We live in a time of fast change—change is one definition of time. In theory. Yet change somehow also seems as somewhere between unexpected and shocking in practice. The bedrock keeps shifting. Small town stores vanished to big chains in malls. Then the chains started to vanish, and the malls themselves. Automobiles—cars!—are beginning to disappear. And now Heinz Kraft is in trouble. I would have bet on Kraft Mac & Cheese lasting through the ages. But who knows? Anything is possible.


  1. Although I have plenty of food vices, Mac & Cheese isn't one of them. Not to be snobbish about it, I have to admit I was once a great fan of Velveeta.


    1. My mom used to make mac & cheese with cut up hotdogs in the oven. I think she used Velveeta. To me it's still comfort food.

  2. Chickpea pasta sounds odd, but I'll give it a try.

    Kids do seem to love mac and cheese, and plenty of adults as well, myself included. John's comment above brought back memories of all the processed cheese stuff that ended up in my family's grocery cart when I was a kid: Velveeta, of course, plus the squiggly cheese topping you would pump out of a container for crackers, and the ultimate fake processed spread from Kraft: Cheez Whiz.

  3. It wasn't just being so big that killed Kraft Heinz's ability to innovate. It was also ownership by a venture capitalist firm that practiced the management by machete so popular nowadays.

    Once the new owners merged the two companies in 2015, they closed factories and slashed thousands of jobs, both blue- and white-collar. Whenever you have a huge merger like that, there will always be lots of redundant positions. But these guys really pushed it, getting rid of everyone they possibly could, and instituting "zero-based budgeting," which makes department heads justify every expense every year, literally down to the paper clips.

    This worked great in the short term. Thanks to the expense-slashing, revenue went up more than 20% in the two quarters after the merger. Wall Street responded: The stock went up, reaching a high of 30% over its price at the merger.

    But included in the cost-slashing was R&D. Innovation took a back seat, because it costs money, and the owners thought that, having bought all these great, iconic brands, they could just sit back and let the income roll in. They were caught flat-footed by consumers' shift away from processed, packaged food toward fresh, which led to the fiasco Neil describes.

    So, it turns out the management by machete people got their comeuppance. Too bad the pain is being felt by the people who got laid off---a few of whom might very well have been able to come up with product ideas that would have pulled Kraft Heinz out of the hole.

  4. You hippies and your glutenhate and meatfear are destroying everything good in these United States of America.

  5. As I know a few people that worked for Kraft before & after the merger, all of them hate the place now. Instead of the spacious buildings in Glenview & Northfield, they're now crammed into four floors of the Aon Building.
    In addition, there are few employees over 40! All the older people were forced out by the man they refer to as the "Brazilian Bastard"!

  6. I was stuck at home just a few days ago and decided to indulge in mac and cheese, a comfort food going back to childhood. We only had a box of Annie's so I made that and it was okay but I wished we had had a 29-cent box of Kraft. Yes, with sliced up hot dogs.

  7. $3.99 for a box of Bands Mac & Cheese?? Um, NOPE..


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