vestryview

A view backstage at Beverley Minster

They’re taking the Michael, I tell you

Beverley Minster virger Neil Pickford mounts another pedestal.

I am staring at a piece of packing and I am seething with rage. Many people seeing exactly the same bit of wrapping may wonder why I got in such a temper but it’s obvious that they haven’t noticed the same thing that I have.
If they had then I’m sure they’d be just as angry.
In itself it’s an innocuous piece of thin golden plastic that has been extruded or stamped out with its identical brethren in its millions – nay, possibly billions. Not so long ago it housed biscuits – very pleasant chocolate-topped biscuits wrapping a thin orange paste atop a cake-like base.
Now quicker-thinking individuals among my readers may well have leapt to the conclusion that I’m describing a Jaffa Cake and I’m not surprised that you did – it was my intention to misdirect you along that path.
However, this biscuit is actually another manufacturer’s attempt to climb onto the Jaffa bandwagon by producing something which is similar, but sufficiently different to avoid a ‘passing off’ legal action. These particular biscuits are rectangular, not round, but to the owner of non- gourmet tastebuds such as myself they taste exactly the same. They come in packing that proudly boasts it is part of the Marks & Spencer branded family and that, as almost everyone knows, is the sign of Good Stuff. However, I may never buy one of these products ever again because someone, somewhere has taken advantage of me.
For some strange reason I started fumbling with the packaging before I disposed of it in the relevant bin and then stopped short. My enquiring mind had, subconsciously, registered there was something slightly unusual about the shape and I wanted to find out what it was. Eventually I twigged – there were only enough compartments for eleven biscuits.
ELEVEN! What sort of stupid number is 11? I’ll tell you what sort of number it is – it’s a flaming rip off, that’s what it is, because we’re supposed to believe that we’ve just bought a normal packet of 12 – but in fact we’ve been short-changed.
Twelve is a proper number. Everyone knows why there are 12 biscuits in a packet: it’s two biscuits for six people, three for four people, four for three people and five people can each have two with a couple of spares for later. But eleven is a guarantee of disappointment.
Imagine the scene: three people will enjoy three biscuits but one poor individual will only get two – resentment starts to grow, possibly leading to bloodshed in the future. Or, conversely, four people will enjoy two biscuits but the fifth person, probably the host, will see there is still one left over at the end of the nice little soiree they have just enjoyed. “I can’t just leave that one – and it’s foolish to put it back in the box by itself – I’d better eat it” they will think.
And so our kindly host consumes extra calories, leading to a terrible addiction that will ruin their lives and those of all their loved ones. And all because some penny-pinching wonk at M&S has shaved a tiny proportion of the costs of producing a family treat without dropping the price.
It’s common throughout the confectionery industry – I have scientific proof that Wagon Wheels are only half the diameter they were when introduced in the 1970s: the same shrinking effect has happened with Mars bars, which once used to dislocate your jaw when you tried to bite them, but can now be almost stuffed in sideways.
Mind you, it’s not just sweetie-makers that are squeezing extra profits out of helpless consumers – I discovered an identical process has happened with jumbo packs of Felix cat foods. Last week there was a special low price offer and so we were very happy, until we got home to find out that there were only 44 sachets inside the box instead of the usual 48. Surprise, surprise, the price-cut wasn’t as big as the reduction in quantity, so they’d tried to sneak another price rise onto us instead of being straight and saying: “yes, things are more expensive to make than they were last week, so you’re going to have to pay more. Sorry.”
I think it’s the deceit that annoys me more than anything else.  Huge quantities of human ingenuity used to disguise the fact that we’re getting less for our money than before. Marketing strategies designed, packing redesigned, tooling tweaked, nozzles slightly nipped, purchasing orders pruned, an overall reduction in demand leading to lesser income for everyone on the supply chain. And for what? A miniscule gain in profitability that is lost in the effort involved in implementing the change and vastly outweighed by a subtle reduction in the quality of life for millions of consumers and producers.
It’s making me so angry that I think I’ll go out and, and, and……oh, to heck with it. I’ll just have to do without biscuits tonight as a protest.
That’s how angry I am.
I’m afraid there is no smart aleck conclusion to this article, no tiny nugget of wisdom to wrap it up neatly. But I do feel better now, so thank you for sharing.
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