Sunday, December 11, 2011

Supermarket Shocks - and Surprises!

Flippin' awful night. Very cold, but obviously above freezing for it's been raining heavily for hours. For some reason my duvet kept acting strangely. Was wide awake for quite a while yet didn't stir from my usual sleeping position, even so the duvet managed to work its way round until it was across me - so no wonder I felt cold around my feet and shoulders. Put it back into correct position and the same thing happened later in the night, I was too sleepy to get up and replace it, so just curled up under the bit that kept me warm, and this morning the cover was placed back as it should - lengthwise - with the bottom end (the bit with the press-studs) now up by my face!! Must have been a mischievous spirit in the room last night.

At least yesterday managed to get all Christmas Cards - that needed to be sent - written and posted. Even B didn't give me anything to moan about (although I was a bit annoyed when I discovered the soups he had bought for himself were still intact and the one variety I had bought for myself some time ago he had used for his supper the other day. If he liked that flavour why didn't he buy some? So - for my lunch - helped myself to one of his choice. What's sauce for the goose etc....! Unfortunately it wasn't as nice as 'mine'. But does it really matter? Of course not. But what would this blog be if I didn't have my Beloved to moan about - like ALL the time?

Wish my diabetic nurse would be as laid back as your mum's minimiser deb. I keep suggesting they lower my pill intake and let me eat what I wish, just because I'm not far off 80 and not planning to make old bones. But they keep saying that I've years left in me yet (well, let's hope so), so will 'keep taking the tablets' until I feel life has nothing more to offer, then I'll stuff myself sick with all the banned favourite foods, and hope that will bring me to a swift end.

Because the thickness of lemon curd comes from the cooking of eggs and the butter which then 'set' when chilled, am wondering if a diabetic version could be made using a powdered sugar sweetener instead of sugar? See no reason why it wouldn't work. Lemon curd - unlike jam - should not be kept for any length of time anyway, and always in the fridge.

With the recent hurricane force gales in Scotland, you were in my mind Urbanfarmgirl, as was visualising your polytunnel taking off. You mentioned your greenhouse needing repair, but as polytunnels are 'rounded'. possibly they don't 'lift' as easily as the glass in a greenhouse.
You are wise to be able to cook by both gas and electricity, as if either could fail you are still able to heat/cook food.

When we first moved to Leeds the house was fitted with an electric hob at the end of one unit, and a double electric oven at the end of another. Used to a gas cooker (oven with hob top) in our Leicestershire home, found the electrical hob difficult to adjust the heat (rapidly). In the early 70's (think it was) we had regular four-hour electricity cuts, not always at the same time, and not always in the same area of town, but the all the nation was affected. Can't remember why.
Just hated the insecurity this gave me, as never enjoying the feeling that we were being 'held to ransome' in this way, so replaced the hob with a gas one. Felt that if the oven was also run on gas, the same thing could happen if we had gas cuts. At least, with one of each had a choice of which to use if cuts of one or t'other fuels happened again.

The problem with those who control our electricity is they have more power to their elbow. Even if the gas supply is still 'running', the gas-fired central heating won't work because the switches/timers etc are run by electricity. At least - with a gas hob that works the burners with an electrical ignition switch, we can still light the gas with a match. As we can with the gas fire in the room I'm in now (which also has an electrical ignition).

As not THAT well up with the politics of a nation, am wondering - with all this guff 'n stuff about the euro, wonder why - in the first place we ever took part in the EU. What have we gained from doing so? It always sounds as though we have to fork out quite a lot of money to go into the EU's melting pot, but get none in return. Also we now have to abide by all their rules and regs that have led to many independent food manufacturers going out of business. The foods they produce were nationally known to be top quality, perhaps a family business running through several generations, but as it would cost tens of thousands to refit their kitchens (still perfectly safe to use) up to the EU standards, the money was just not there to do it. More of these rules and regs in today's 'trade secrets'.

The trade mag this week has some good, and - as usual - more bad news. These will be given in the order they appear in the mag. The first being a mention of the Panorama programme that highlighted "just how important and complex supermarket promotions can be - and while the number of offers may look to be on the way up, the value of the discounts is beginning to fall for the first time in years".
Apparently for the 12 weeks to 30th October, the promotional give-away across the major supermarkets had fallen by 0.2% points, and it was "looking likely" that a similar fall in the last few weeks would be recorded....and this wasn't simply a blip.
"A fall in the level of promotions would lead to a rise in the sales of own label....and consumer confidence was currently at the lowest level since the beginning of the recession in 2008."
Predictions then were that customers would migrate en masse to stores own label, but the increase in supermarket promotions (of branded products) meant that brands began to grow faster over the past two years. "This could well change if shoppers were no longer getting the same deals on brands...and own label will become something of a safety value for shoppers".

The article said that "Next year will see a huge amount of activity in terms of own label development. Morrisons and Asda are gearing up for major budget own-label launches next month, while Morrisons will also launch more ranges during the year.
Sainsbury's is rolling out 'it's by Sainsbury's' range, and Tesco is focused on its 'venture' brands.
It said that the above represented the biggest danger for brand owners for 2012, who may now be forced to offer better deals to the retailers that are growing fastest. It's all very interesting don't you think?

Having tried many own-brands over the past months have to say many do compare favourably with similar branded products, and probably will be even improved to keep our custom, so it's not all bad. Suffice to say that this might be a good time to buy your favourite branded product if it is 'still' on offer, for come January who knows if it will be so competitively priced again.

The next page caught my eye due to the EC wanting supermarkets to reduce the temperature of their chilled 'fridges'. "This leading UK supermarkets and suppliers with a £100m energy bill and blowing an ozone-busting hole in industry efforts to reduce carbon emissions."
Most supermarkets in the UK set their chillers at a maximum of 5C (M&S 4C) but many smaller stores operate at up to 7C. All regarded as completely safe by leading UK experts and the FSA.

Moving away from the mag at the moment, but dealing with the above, the 'chilled' side of our fridge/freezer in the Goode kitchen is set at 3C, which I have to say keeps the food in a 'healthy' state far longer than our previous fridge that was set on 7C. So myself feel that slightly lower temperatures in supermarkets is not a bad idea.

Back to the mag. and the article..."The FSA has said that it is firmly opposed to the change and that the UK 'had made it clear that we see no reason to change the current requirement of retailers'... As well as stores, this move will affect everybody, from butchers to delivery trucks to distribution centres".

At the foot of the page is shown four 'famous cases of the EC's meddling with the UK food industry:
Fruit and Veg 2008: proposed new rules that class 1 cucumbers must have a curvature of no more than 10mm per 10cm length!
End result: common sense as 26 fruit and veg standards were 'tweaked'.
Eggs 2010: The EU would have banned UK retailers from selling eggs by the dozen, and bread rolls in packs of six (the EU probably not able to think past metric numbers),
End result: another backtrack by the bureaucrats.
Milk 2010: One EU proposal was to ban milk from being labelled 'fresh' if it had a use-by date of over seven days.
End result: the industry successfully argued its case.
Bacon 2011: Proposed new rules stipulate bacon with more than 5% added water (most bacon produced in the UK) must be labelled 'bacon with added water'.
End result: Alive and kicking, set to come into force in 2015. (Why do we have to wait that long?)

I've never seen the "99p Stores", but if there is one in your area you will be interested to know that this company is adding fresh meat and vegetables to its ranges "breaking new ground for a fixed price food discounter".
"Fresh chicken and pork will go into stores in 260g packs (just over 9oz) this week. Root vegetables, including potatoes, will also go on sale. In keeping with its price point, all new lines will sell for 99p,
The range will be expanded and tweaked depending on the season. Summer will see a major push on BBQ favourites and stew packs of veg will make way for salad."
Before we all rush to find the nearest 99p Store, we should remember that "the discounter can't quite match the supermarkets on price though. An equivalent sized pack of Tesco value chicken would sell for around 80p".
As always we have to decide whether it is worth paying extra for transport to go to a supermarket further away, or spend a little bit more shopping at a local discount store that MIGHT be slightly more expensive. Have to say that knowing EVERY pack is priced the same, it makes it a lot easier to choose what to eat and keep within our budget.

Apparently supermarkets are still not good at reducing their food waste. We 'domestics' do it so much better (for one thing we don't waste much do we?).
There is always an excuse of course with "The industry facing a conflict between the waste agenda and the healthy eating goal of promoting a varied diet packed with fresh fruit and veg.
People face social pressures to cook and eat certain ways - with fresh ingredients from scratch and with variety day-to-day. These pressures cause people to buy food because they ought to, which they then find they either do not have the time or the inclination to cook and end up wasting."
'Social pressures'....if you ask me its the supermarkets with their advertising and in-store offers that put on the most pressure.

Deary me - "Asda published results of a survey last week suggesting almost one in five of those who attempt to cook a Christmas meal end up making a mistake and throwing it in the bin. The supermarket refrained from drawing any conclusions from the research - it could hardly be seen to be encouraging consumers to abandon their Christmas cooking plans and opt for an Asda ready-meal instead".

An interesting article about 'the price war that no one can win'. At the heart of this 'game', retailers want to show shoppers they care and are trying to help them stay within budget (as if!).
But we shoppers apparently are changing our habits and deciding what WE want to buy before we visit the store, and avoid impulse purchases or costly errors. Also shopping locally to cut down on fuel-heavy trips. We are buying more own-label products and also cutting down on the amount of food we buy "but more importantly questioning whether the product we buy really does give enough overall value".
Goes on to say "at the moment, consumers don't' feel in control of their spending because the price of everything they buy is rising. Things they have always purchased are becoming unaffordable luxuries."

A small article about Bonne Maman preserves removed from Tesco shelves 'after costs row'. Not that that is important to us cooks who make our own jam. What IS important is knowing that "over the past year jam producers have been hit by rises in the cost of key ingredients. Confectionery sugar has soared 46% year-on-year and many soft fruit prices have also risen, including blackcurrants - up 13% and plums - up 40%.
So it makes sense to grow as much soft fruit as we can and ALWAYS make our own jams and marmalade.

A small article on customers getting 'cold comfort' from chilled rice puddings. Seems that we now prefer to buy chilled rice pudding rather than the canned option. So what's wrong with making rice pudding the old-fashioned way? Chilled rice puddings are said to be not the only classic hot dessert to have performed well in the last 12 months. Spotted Dick has grown 13.2% by value, while pies and tarts have grown 7%. "However, many other hot desserts are in decline including crumble and souffle. Bread and Butter pudding has fare particularly poorly, and is down 10.2%.
These are percentages of sales that concern the stores, not us. Just because less are being sold doesn't mean customers don't wish to eat these desserts. Almost certainly many cooks (even novice ones) have realised they are so cheap and easy to make at home, they see no reason to pay more for something they have discovered never really tasted as good as 'mama used to make'. So mum has now decided to make them again, and again and again.

Heinz is launching a new dessert pot range for babies. Fruity custard based with banana, fruit medley, pear and apple. Also yogurt based banana, pear, and Fruity pudding with Apple and Oats. All I'm sure gorgeous. Each pot contains at least one of a child's recommended five-a-day.
Wearing my Mrs. Scrooge hat the first thing I would do with the rsp of £1.75 for four x 100g (less than 4 oz) pots is to ask myself whether I could make the same thing myself for less.

Maybe it's because I raised four children on meals made by my own fair hands (and a Mouli-mill) that I know how easy it is (and extremely inexpensive) to make baby food, toddler foods etc using many of the foods cooked for adults. In those days we didn't have a freezer, so it was just a matter of pureeing/mashing food that was served for the main meal each day. Or maybe feeding spoonfuls of lightly boiled egg (which doesn't seem to be done now). Nowadays I'd be making larger amounts of food especially for my baby, then freezing it away in ice-cube trays, but never NEVER bothering to buy any. In these times of recession, do hope that mothers go back to the 'old ways' and feed their children food they will have to grow used to anyway as they grow older. Just make sure no salt is added to anything a child has to eat.

At last! Some good news. Wholesale butter prices have fallen to their lowest levels since December last year - crashing by 10% in November on October figures. Seems a weaker euro (down nearly 2% since September) had made EU imports more competitive. It is predicted that further falls in the wholesale price because more butter is expected to come onto the market in the next few months and "extra EU butter made over Christmas could provide further downward pressure just as up to 30,000 tonnes of NZ butter is reportedly destined for the UK in early 2012".
Wholesalers will be pleased, so let us hope they lower their prices so we consumers also get the benefit.

Main feature is all about puddings, no interest to me or to readers as of course we always make our own and never buy any, so will not even bother to find out what new ones are likely to come on the market.

Loved a comment on the final page: "Supermarkets are still more trusted than one disreputable bunch - our partners. Eye-catching findings from consumer researchers show that more consumers trust their supermarket to get their weekly shop right than they do their spouses.....The gap is closing between the number of us who remember our partner's birthdays and those of us genuinely touched to receive an automated email from a retailer's marketing arm...."at least Tesco remembered my birthday, even if it was just to sell me a cake"."

On the same page it comes up with facts about our 'seasonal snacking disorder'. To avoid "a mince pie is a binge, not at snack", we are advised we can beat eating disorders by walking down streets with health shops on them, and remembering that - in the words of Kate Moss: "nothing tastes as good as being skinny feels".

Personally, the more weight I lose, the thinner I get and the colder I feel this winter, as my 'built-in' insulation is fast disappearing. So if I find a cold winter brings on that 'seasonal snacking', then I for one don't care a jot. Mean to sit back and enjoy every cream eclair! So there!

And that's it for today. Am now about to move into the kitchen and start making yet another rich fruit cake in the hope it lasts over Christmas. But who cares if it doesn't? Can always make another, and another, and another.....until the dried fruit runs out.

Beloved is taking daughter out for lunch, although might be the other way round as she too came up on Ernie yesterday (an even bigger prize than me!!). So no need for me to make supper for him. He may choose to have that can of Scotch Broth!

For some reason thought that Christmas Day was on a Tuesday (or Thursday), but seems that it falls on a Sunday, which is two weeks today. Horrors! Still so much to do - make decorations, trim the house, make mincepies, cake, gingerbread, fit in tidying up. Sit and watch B enjoy all the edible treats while I try and keep control of my weight. Or shall I go mad and stuff myself sick? The thought of all those pounds that I'll have to lose all over again is enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. But that's then, and this is now, and it's now I'm having to cope with. So will leave you to get on with your 'now', and hope whatever you are doing you are enjoying doing it.
Please join me again tomorrow. I look forward to your company.