December 10, 2009

Taking the Comfort out of Comfort Food

There are a couple of standard comfort food meals around my house that revolve primarily around processed foods. I wrote about one of them here. The other meal consists of Campbell's Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. The cheese on the sandwich may occasionally change, the bread may change, but the soup never does. My previous attempts at serving a nice homemade, fresh tomato soup have always been met with much resistance and suspicion and then it's back to the familiar red and white can. So over the years I've grown used to the taste and appearance of Campbell's Tomato Soup.

A trip to the dentist a few weeks ago necessitated the serving of this meal, sans the sandwich. When I opened the can, I immediately noticed that the soup was no longer the familiar, bright reddish-orange color. Dipping my finger in for a quick taste confirmed my suspicions. Something wasn't right.

"I think something's wrong with my soup," I told the Campbell's Customer Service lady who was immediately contacted via the 1-800 number found on the can. Expiration date current? Check. No dents in the can? Check.

"Has the soup formula been changed recently?" I asked, only partially hopeful, thinking of how the Ohio version always tasted slightly different than the Texas version. It looked as if perhaps they'd added a scant bit of chili powder, something like that, to appeal to the Latino market down here. That might account for the dulling down of the color and the change in taste. I didn't want the formula to have changed, but at that particular moment, I wanted to eat contaminated soup even less.

"Oh no, nothing's changed" she reassured me sweetly, "but don't take any chances and throw your can out." Our conversation ended with her telling me she would be sending me coupons in the mail.

In the meantime, I was ticked. Should I take my-lazy-and pressed-for-time-self down to the store again and buy a new can? Should I serve that can (which tasted okay to the patient) or should I serve the (evil) microwave styrofoam container version sent home by the dentist?

I served the contents of the original can, the patient survived and I ate something else. (After a subsequent visit to the dentist my still-lazy-and-pressed-for-time-self served the new "convenient" version--I really have nothing positive to share about that product except I'm impressed that the dentist took the trouble to send soup home with the patient in the first place.)

A week ago, I fixed the handyman and I yet another newly purchased can of Campbell's Tomato Soup and grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. I ignored the new brownish-red color of the soup and noticed it still tasted different (still not in a good way). I decided right then and there that I wouldn't be buying this brand anymore. Some people around here were just going to have to adjust.

I redeemed the two $3 coupons I received in the mail from Campbell's, but instead of buying the soup, I bought two six-packs of the Low Sodium V8 juice that I drink because of it's calming effects on my heart. Something about all that potassium. I don't really care for it, and I kind of drink it like medicine, but I have grown accustomed to it's taste. Most importantly, I know what it's supposed to taste like, since I drink it all the time.

Uh Oh. Déjà vu. Trouble here with the first can out of the package. It's more of a brownish color than it used to be. The taste is even nastier than usual. Several days, and cans, later, I also notice that it doesn't seem to be calming my heart down like it used to. Something's changed, I think. This time I don't bother to call anybody. "So much for that little heart calming trick," I think, "it was good while it lasted."

Although I did a quick Google search on the soup for any recall news before I called their Customer Service, maybe I should have just checked the Campbell's Corporate website for the news release. (And maybe they should send the news releases around to their CS call centers.)

A bit of the positive spin in the news release is missing from this Sacramento Bee article:

Still, the new soup won't be labeled with a "low sodium" banner. The company worries that customers would associate that with blandness. "We hope it's the biggest change you never notice," said Denise Morrison, president of Campbell Soup North
America, during a visit Wednesday to the company's agricultural research headquarters near Davis.

Sorry Denise, I noticed the change.

Although I meant to, I don't think I ever blogged about how a while back my salad dressing made with the Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing Mix and Kraft Mayonnaise kept failing to thicken. Two calls to the 1-800 Hidden Vallen Ranch ladies resulted in several free coupons but no thick dressing. Eventually, the light bulb came on and I called Kraft, who did reveal that there was indeed a formula change with the Mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. I switched to Hellmann's and the problem was solved.

And yes, Nature's Own bread, I also noticed that the (new) lack of trans fats in your bread products now makes a fresh loaf last less than a week. Which makes it easier to decide to buy the fresh bakery bread that I always liked better anyway. Now that they last the same amount of time there's no contest.

I suppose it's good the food companies are paying more attention to what they're putting into their products, but it's not going to be easy changing what America's used to eating.


At 9:49 AM CST, Blogger ~~louise~~ said...

Kudos to you for questioning the ingredients in these "new" products. I agree food companies do need to update their styles but it seems to me, if their products have stood the test of time, perhaps, all they needed to do was limit the salt they include in their products and leave it to the consumer to season at will. I'm thinking there were more changes made, perhaps more than they are willing to admit!

Hope to "see" lots more of you as time goes by...

At 2:59 AM CST, Blogger Rochelle R. said...

That is interesting, I always buy generic tomato soup so I haven't noticed a change. A recipe group I belong to had quite a discussion awhile ago about Miracle Whip. I think water is the first ingredient now instead of oil and that has a bad effect on some recipes.

At 7:33 PM CST, Blogger Kristen said...

I wonder how much of the brand name recipe changes have to do with good health and how much to do with making a buck. My husband, a long time Oreo connoisseur, has recently vowed never to buy them again; the filling is thinner and the cookies now get mushy in milk. Homemade is getting to be the only option for those of us who still have memories of "the good stuff."

At 8:55 AM CST, Blogger T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

It is interesting that our taste buds have a certain "memory." I recently bought a box of cereal featuring a little pink "extraterrestrial" that I remembered fondly from my youth, and fortunately, the product tasted exactly the same as I recalled.

At 9:07 AM CST, Blogger Kathy said...

louise - I used to lament the amount of shelf space taken up by the "new" products that were labeled as such (fat-free, low-sodium, etc.), because it left less room for the selection of older "regular" products. It seems like this new trend of saying nothing is kind of sneaky. Kind of like down-sizing the products and not the price--did they think we wouldn't notice?

Rochelle - Perhaps I'll give the generic souop a try. The main store I shop at has pretty good private label products.

Kristen - I'm fairly skeptical so I vote for the bucks. Interesting to learn about the Oreo's, I wonder how many other prouducts have changed?

At 9:26 AM CST, Blogger ~~louise~~ said...

Hi Kathy,
I just saw a commercial last night advertising the "new" low sodium Spaghetti O's Campbells plans to "roll" onto the shelves. Enough said...

To this day I remember the first time I noticed coffee no longer was sold in pounds. I'm seriously considering going the CSA route when I move to PA. I need a wee bit more control over my pantry...


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