Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Spam gets into the PB biz. (Yippy, Skippy.)

With all the spectacular (ahem) gadget news expected to come out of the Consumer Electronics Show this week, it’s refreshing to read a bit of low-tech news.

In this category, Hormel Foods’ acquisition of Skippy Peanut Butter most decidedly falls.

Hormel is, of course, best known for Spam. It also produces Dinty Moore Beef Stew and Hormel Chili, two items, I am a tad embarrassed to admit, my husband regularly consumes.

But mostly, when you think Hormel, which admittedly I seldom do, I think Spam.

Although I haven’t actually eaten Spam in years, I can still remember the chemical, stinging, tip-of-the-tongue sensation that came from that first luscious bite of Spam.

Ah, Spam!

Believe it or not, this was a childhood treat in our house, something we could only have when my father wasn’t home. Four years in the U.S. Navy in WWII gave my father his fill of this canned pork product. Still, we had to wonder about my father’s taste. He loved yucky foods like milk toast, creamed chip beef, and finnan haddie. How was it possible that he didn’t crave Spam – especially if served up with home fries? Yum, yum, yummedy yum yum.

But perhaps it’s a grownup vs. kid thing. As an adult, I am somewhat revolted at the idea of Spam, other than as a goofily fun brand.

Peanut butter, on the other hand, is something that I eat happily and regularly.

Just not Skippy.

I much prefer the local brand, Teddie – Super Crunchy ‘R Us.

In any case, I didn’t grow up with Skippy.

Not that my mother was a choosy mother choosing Jif. (All we ever got was a free sample which, of course, we used.)  No, we were a Peter Pan house. Perhaps it was the only brand carried by Morris Market. Perhaps it was the cheapest.

Anyway, I was surprised to learn that Skippy was the Number 2 brand, behind Jif. I would have thought it was Numero Uno.

Maybe being part of the Hormel family is just what it needs.

At least Hormel is food-stuff oriented. Skippy was owned by Unilever, better known for Brylcreem and Vaseline. Which may explain why Skippy trails Jif…

Most of its Hormel’s business is domestic, and the desire to go global was what prompted it to acquire Skippy:

In a conference call with analysts, CEO Jeffrey Ettinger noted that peanuts and peanut oil are popular in China. And although peanut butter is not a household staple there, he said it is growing rapidly. (Source: Boston.com)

Peanut butter may not be a staple, but it is used in dun-dun noodles, one of my favorite items on the Chinese food menu. Wish I had a big bowl of Mary Chung’s dun-dun in the fridge right about now.

Back at home, Ettinger said peanut butter is already regarded as a convenient and affordable source of protein and that Hormel would apply its innovation skills and ‘‘take Skippy out of the jar’’ to use it with other products.

Hmmm. Wonder what innovation skills have been applied to Spam. (On second thought, it may be best not to know.)

And thinking outside the jar? How far out are we talking?

Whatever your peanut butter preference, is there a more perfect sandwich than a PBJ?

I do acknowledge that there are a few equally perfect sandwiches: BLT, tuna, grilled cheese, the Gus (bacon, lettuce, cheese, and kosher dill pickle on pumpernickel). But there’s really not a sandwich I can think of that’s any better than the classic peanut putter and jelly.

Ettinger also said that Spam, which was also introduced in the 1930s, gave the company experience in handling iconic brands.

There’s iconic and then there’s iconic, and I wouldn’t quite put Skippy in the same category as Spam.  After all, Spam has it’s very own web site, while if you go to skippy.com, you’re on a site dedicated to a cartoon character – the eponymous Skippy – last seen in 1945. Or course, Skippy the Peanut Butter may argue that they’re gone the peanut butter world one better. Skippy the Peanut Butter’s found at peanutbutter.com.

But Skippy’s just about the spread, while Spam has all kinds of cool, spammish stuff for sale, including office products, kitchen utensils and housewares, sporting goods, kids clothing, and out and out kitsch. (Actually, it’s all pretty much out and out kitsch.)

Hormel’s got their work set out for them if they want to turn Skippy into as iconic as Spam’s.

Just hope that, when they start thinking outside the jar for new uses, they don’t start pushing something as ghastly as a Spam and Skippy sandwich. (White bread, only.)

But I do wonder what those out of the jar innovators will come up with…

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