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Saturday, 23 March 2013

The incredible shrinking stuff. Not for girls, though.

You know what they say. Wagon Wheels aren't as big as they used to be.

'Ah well, that's what they say,' returns the argument,' But you were smaller then, weren't you?' 

As if that makes sense.  The logic behind that would appear that  the scale of my foodstuffs decreases as I incrementally increase.

Weetabix are still the same size, in my eyes, they still taste like loft insulation and still have the capacity to soak up milk at a rate of half a pint per twenty seconds.  In fact I've often wondered why the relevant authorities haven't considered a nationwide bank of Weetabix to be distributed in times of potential flooding, a bit like salting and gritting roads.  We would all sleep a little more soundly knowing that it could rain as much as it likes because we have crates of breakfast cereal on standby with the capacity to soak up phenomenal amounts of river water and discharge.  I mean, do I have to think of everything?

This may well be old news, but I do think it sad that we seem to accept the dwindling size of food items
without so much as as blink.

No stiffly worded letters to MPs, no blockades of supermarkets, no sit down protests outside the village hall.  Nothing. It seems we have just got used to it all and accept with crushed acceptance.

For example: Yorkie bars have been slimming down a damn sight faster than I have in recent years.  Once upon a time Yorkies seemed to be the size of yard brush heads.  Vast lumps of indigestible chocolate that could only be tackled efficiently with the spare toollkit in an Eddie Stobbart truck. Hence the whole trucking image thing 'Not for Girls...' stuff.

Three years ago they had shrunk from 68 grammes to 64.5 grammes.   Back in 2002 Yorkie bars were as big as 70 grammes, so the bars have decreased by around 8 per cent in just eight years. There's fewer chunks, I suspect, because something in my head says the word 'Yorkie' was spelled out before, chunk by chunk.

And Aeros - those lovely wispy, airy, minty, frothy morsels have lost ten per cent of their body weight in recent years.  Something I could do with, but as you may have gathered chocolate is one of my things and something I've jabbered on here endlessly about.

Don't get me started on Fry's Turkish Delight. Have you seen the size of that recently?  There are bigger dog biscuits. That hasn't shrunk, it's been savaged.

Of course, they not alone.  Other chocolate bars have suffered similarly as have various other items, food and non-food.

Birds Eye original beef burgers with onion: 16 pack, now 12, price increase; Walkers Cheese and Onion Crisps:  34.5 g now 32.5 g no increase; Finish All in One Powerball Dishwasher tablets: 28 now 26. On it goes; bacterial wipes, furniture polish, take your pick.

And the alternative is?  Well much higher prices I guess, but even so some prices have risen and packs have got smaller.

Not sure which of those I dislike more: rising prices or shrinking.

Would it be commercial suicide just to keep hiking prices up?  Would we just appreciate that rising costs have to be met somewhere by someone at some point? Do we notice less if our furniture polish has 42 available squirts and not 50?

I do think shrinking is generally less noticeable and somehow, we persuade ourselves that it's OK.  At least we're still getting our favourite product.

We've seen how awkward the pricing of something is just this week with George Osbourne's budget and his magnificent gesture in shaving a penny of a pint of beer.

If I'm going to save myself a tenner on a night out tonight at the Dog and Gusset, I'm going to have to shift enough beer to cause a head injury, let alone a hangover.

Five pence, I aint gonna notice George.  Thanks for the offer, appreciated and all that, but you may as well have kept the cash and spent it on useful services.  It looks like the NHS to start with, could do with whatever loose change you have, George. 

Oh dear.  There's no easy answer is there? None.  I may as well stop painting my protest placards because there really isn't a point.  We're just going to have to keep on keeping on putting up with shrinking because the bottom line is we can't keep bashing business. The companies that make all this stuff employ us too.  And whether you think it's more to do with profiteering and shareholders the fact remains that these companies can't soak up all costs forever or risk shedding jobs. There is a whiff of Catch-22 to all this.

As for Wagon Wheels, well the size of the biscuit varies across the world.  It's quite a bit smaller in Australia, for example.  But here, it's barely shrunk at all.  A slither.  So me getting bigger and the biscuit barely changing at all, is probably the truth of it.  Who'd have thought it.

Memories can play tricks, after all. Wish I couldn't remember the Milky Bar Kid.  What a clown.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Direct selling men. Not a done deal. Yet.

Giving it a go - at a mikegetscooking event

I said I'd get back to this 'getting men involved'  topic once more.  So here we are again.

I'm a bit of a lone voice in all this. For a variety of reasons. I think it's fair to say that some people are uncomfortable when the status quo is challenged and some women have previously said that I (as in, me) fundamentally don't understand the whole concept of direct selling and the selling of a product such as this. Kitchen tools  in my case.

So that's a pretty  clear viewpoint.  Not much room for misinterpretation there.  I don't get it, apparently because I see business opportunities for men.

I'm going to be the last to challenge that because to begin with, everyone is entitled to an opinion.  And secondly, they may well be right, of course.  To trot out a cliché; only time will tell.

So this post follows on from the last and you've already read, no doubt, the previous offering which kind of spells out the initial thinking.  So here's some name-dropping: I talked about all this on BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme a few months back.  I was asked to guest on the programme because of this very topic - more men entering direct selling.  And I said then - in front on the nation, dear reader -  that something's gotta change.

Men are looking to direct selling, such as Pampered Chef, for opportunities.  Over the past three years the numbers of men entering the direct selling industry has jumped by around 30% in the UK.  And from what little I know, the increases are there too in the US.

I read a posting from a director with a very well know plastic box direct selling company.  It read...
 '...It is for your kitchen. It is for your garage. It is for your tackle box. You can use a plastic container anywhere you need to organize! It is NOT a women's only product!..'
So basically, it was about pitching the product to a way of thinking.  But I reckon men also like to buy based on an event.  They buy to remind themselves what a great time they had at...XYZ event.  And then when they use the product, the memory of that returns.   I also think there are three types of cooking males: 1) toolbox man 2) store cupboard man and 3) details man.

I'll get us both confused if I launch into all that explanation now, so I think I'll leave that floating in the air for now.

Sampling the end result at a blokes-only mikegetscooking night  

But the common thinking here, for me anyway, is that we need to consider and plot how and why men would want to buy these kinds of products, what's in it for them beyond using them day to day, how to build that level of reliance and expectation from the product, in the eyes of those men.  Selling in the home, following the 'party-plan' rules just doesn't do it for many men.  I've spoken to them.  Of course, there are men out there perfectly happy to do so - I do, quite obviously.  But many potential recruits are not. They don't want to buy that way or sell that way. They're uncomfortable with the whole 'home' thing: having a blokes at home party is so far off the radar as to be invisible for these men.  And they don't envisage a fast enough return.

So, we need to seriously, seriously think about how we physically (or virtually) meet these men; how do we sell to them, how do we allow men entering the industry to build a sustainable business in a reasonably short time.  Please, that's not to suggest women don't also want to build quickly, all I'm suggesting is that men often lack the patience for the longer haul and sometimes, as a breadwinner now redundant, time is not on their side.  And if this doesn't click quickly then maybe they have to move on to something else that will.

And yet as I said in the last post - there is a man cooking and demonstrating every day on television.  The marketing of the notion has already been signed, sealed and is delivered seven days a week.

And yes - blokes will have a go too.

There is a business here for absolute certainty for men.  I'm hoping more will tell me what it would take to get them to look at this seriously, because the number one barrier is preconceived thinking; that this is a woman-only industry.  Well it's certainly been female dominated and there's nothing wrong with that at all.  Heaven knows there are still  more than enough male dominated industries.

But there are opportunities here if a clean piece of paper where to be placed on the desk ready for a new range of ideas, bonkers suggestions, brain storms, thought-showers or whatever phrase we're allowed to use these days.

The first to blink, might well be the winner here.

Anyway, look, this is all a bit serious considering the usual nonsense I write on here.  I'm thinking that maybe I need to create a new 'mikegetscooking blokes blog' and move stuff of this sort across to there.

I've got pressing matters to ramble about on here, such as deep fried battered creme eggs and shrinking chocolate bars. The big subjects, to get off my chest.

If I create a parallel blokes blog you'll be the first to know, although where the time comes from, I don't know.  I barely get time to keep this one on track.  And maybe it will be there that I explain the 'three types of cooking blokes' theory in my head.

Get in touch. Please.  I'm serious about cracking this issue as described above, and the opportunity to make an impact is huge.  Seriously.  No daft promises, just a fair amount of uncharted waters to navigate.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Calling all men. And no funny business.

A blokes only mikegetscooking event

Promises, promises.  Too good to be true, whatever. I've been thinking about this for a long time, and talking to a fair number of people.  Men and women.

Let's state the obvious so we can get all that out of the way early on. These are tricky times in the workplace with no-one really, regardless of position, able to say absolutely clearly, that their job is 100 per cent rock-solid safe. Redundancy comes out of the blue often.  Complete surprise.  Those of us with a few years on the clock have sampled previous recessions and to be fair, all of them have been pretty rubbish as an experience. This one is no better.  Strange when I think back because in my dad's day, redundancy was never talked about - people had jobs.  If they got kicked out or left one, they went around the corner and got another.

So anyway, this is nothing new, you've read all this dozens of times.  In the same way,you've read people say that communications, shopping, trading etc and so on, has also changed as new platforms have been adopted.

Where's all this going?  Just a general ramble about rose coloured glasses?  Well, not exactly.  Where this is going is me thinking aloud about men and jobs.  I reckon what I'm thinking right now is a genuine opportunity.  And I'm hesitating here because it could all begin to read like those emails I've been getting by the inbox full, all from gurus telling me if only I completed their foolproof programme '... I could earn a seven figure sum in two minutes without leaving the sofa...' They're starting to appear on my Facebook newsfeed as well, and I can't say I'm overly pleased with that.

'...Hey...sign up for my free webinar on how to earn a million pounds online simply by waking up tomorrow...' so on and so forth.

Tempting.  Well, of course it's tempting when someone says 'I have found the future and it requires no investment or effort whatsoever'.  We want an easy answer.  I know my usual blog posts tend to be somewhat flippant with a view to (not always successfully) raising a smile.  But there's nothing funny about all this.  Nothing funny at all. This is about opportunity and the need to shift the gears on to a new set of cogs.  Damned hard work.

So that's why I'm hesitating in case I've read too many of those and it's beginning to influence the way I string two words together.  The simple fact is I've been thinking - and talking - about how more men could get involved with what I do and turn Pampered Chef into a business for themselves here in the UK.

It isn't pyramid selling, it's direct selling of high-end kitchenware that I use - I must be honest here - everyday.  And that's because I do all the cooking at home.  I like using kit that works first time, does what it was designed to do, lasts a very long time and helps me turn out a good product - in this case, a meal.

There are men, like me, that sell Pampered Chef products as a business or a sideline, but not many.  It's primarily a woman-driven company.  And I think it's easy to see why and equally easy why that can change.

Men will take part - ask them nicely at a mikegetscooking event
The primary selling method, as with the majority of direct selling, is face-to face, in the home; that revolting phrase 'party-plan'.  No offence intended please, but it does remind me of 'parties' my mum used to have selling plastic boxes.  Again, easy to see why.  Men were the traditional breadwinners and women ran the home. Women would get together for a social event, a nice cup of tea and buy a couple of bits for the home.

And we're still selling that way - the nice cup of tea may have been replaced with a hangover supply of Pinot Grigio, but the story is pretty much the same.  Woman selling to women, ranging from bedroom appliances of an intimate sort to perfumes, jewellery and facial cream stuff, in the theatre-round approach at home.

Getting men to enter that 'party' fray, to consider selling, to see this as a viable option as a business and not a sideline is tricky.  I keep using that word, so I think I'll upgrade to 'damn difficult to do.'   Stereotype stuff is painfully difficult to break down, and yet on the face of it, men selling kitchenware or cooking tools if you prefer should be straightforward - even easy.  The marketing behind the notion is being done, for free, everyday.  You can watch a man cooking on television - even non-satellite television - seven days a week.  I have a feeling there may be more men than women; I've never counted.

So there's a contradiction.  Men cooking, but not so many selling.  And I think the selling process is where we need to rethink.  I'm rushing this because it's a blog and not a lengthy feature in one of the Sunday broadsheets, so I'm going to have to come back and have another bite at this, after all I've been thinking about all this for months.

That'll be me, then.

The bottom  line is is this.  I did a Facebook search just now.  I searched for men aged 21 - 60 in the UK on Facebook that had listed Pampered Chef as an interest.  The number was around 3,500.  I then cleared the search and added cooking and baking.  The number shot to over 370,000.  Interested men are there, living, breathing, cooking and baking.  Somebody needs to talk to them.  I want to do that and I want other men to join me.  So is there a business there and not just a hobby?  Well, look again at the numbers. I don't think this needs to much spelling out.

It's just that we need to do things differently and address the opportunity sitting there for men of any age - certainly those in the young or 50 plus and now out of work and not wanted elsewhere, categories.

I'll come back to this soon. Maybe even tomorrow.  I've got a fair bit rattling around in my head, and this was only ever meant to be a starting point to get a conversation going. Have a think for now and contact me if you have a thought to share, please share at    There's much to do, as they say, and it's time to put months of thinking into practice.

In a bit, as we kids say.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

One rasher of bacon and half a tomato. Now what..?

Christmas pudding.  At Easter...?   Ermm...

So anyway, I was having a rummage at the back of the fridge and guess what I found.  Christmas pudding. Checks calendar; end of January.

I try to keep rummaging to a bare minimum these days.  When I feel the urge to rummage, it always goes horribly wrong.  The freezer is my worst offence, apparently.  I tend to put stuff in the freezer where there is space.  This, as all sensible freezer users know, is a serious lapse of judgement and needs to stamped out vigorously.

The conversation usually moves around this area.

'You've put a loaf of bread in the middle draw!'
'Well, yes, because there was space there and the bread draw was full...'
'You can't put bread in the frozen veg draw, halfwit...'
'But as the bread draw was full I thought...'
'Well move things around in the bread draw then and make some space...!'
'But there is space in....'
'And there's a pack of mince with the frozen fruit...I mean...are you deliberately dense...'
You get the idea.  Logic is a troublesome thing when rummaging takes hold.  It's at least comparable with my inability to stack the dishwasher.  But I've droned on about that before on here so there's no point in raking over old ground. Anyway, I try to forget these things because you certainly can't rationalise why you can't (apparently...) put forks upside down in the cutlery box, thing in the dishwasher. Or knives. Or spoons. And why are there always less teaspoons to come out of the dishwasher than went in? The airing cupboard is another source of significant irritation, but I'm moving off the point.

Christmas pudding. In January.

So, moving a pack of cheese in the fridge, carefully to one side which was a risk in itself as the cheese was off limits and not housed in the bottom half of a plastic box reserved for cheese and cheese-based products on the top shelf, there sat a small black plastic bowl.  And in the bowl, a morsel of Christmas pud.

It's been there, languishing in the cool of the fridge for a month, hiding behind a marmalade jar mostly, but latterly, as we've just heard, a block of escaped cheese.  Now the reason why there's a bit of pud left when it was only a bite-sized thing in the first place, is because only my wife likes it in our house. She helps herself on Christmas Day after a drizzling a drizzle of rum from a bottle that was bought when Lesley Judd was still presenting Blue Peter at a guess.  She's the only one to like rum too, so the bottle is probably a hand-me-down.

I've tried to like Christmas pudding.  We've tried to be grown up about this - me and the pud - and air our differences, get hang-ups out in the open, talk it through sensibly, to no avail.  There's no meeting of minds.  I can't stand the damn thing, full stop.  And for reasons I can't explain, my wife never thinks of cracking open a tin of Ambrosia and enjoying the last remnants.  She seems programmed to only eat it within a narrow window, late December.

Easter will come and go and I bet you anything that fruity concoction will still be there, shuffling behind pots of jam to avoid attention.

OK.  Now what..?

Food waste. Why not, will not.

Anyway, this all begs the question of what to do with scraps and bits?  We heard just last week on TV news about the staggering millions of pounds worth of food  that never makes it to the plate either because we buy to much or because the supermarkets deem that carrot to be too ugly.

I do try to be careful as I am the food shopper in our house.  I try not to buy in excess and I hate throwing away odd bits of food just because it's an odd bit.  A chicken carcass never leaves the premises until it's released its chicken stock.  I've just had to throw about a third of a cucumber away because it was on the verge of composting.  Heartbreaking.  Seriously, I have a real problem with food waste.  I buy 'value' range of veg from supermarkets just to make a point.  I'm happy, delighted in fact, to buy a bag containing carrots of vastly different sizes and shapes.  As I'm chopping them up most of the time, who cares?  I buy mushrooms that just been plucked from their composty, soiley beds.  Why? Because I am also happy to buy oddly different sized mushrooms that I trim myself in a second or so, because I'm clever like that.

So.  Odds and bits.  I'm thinking of throwing this one open, as they say.  Let's attempt to get sense to apply here.  That day when you find two rashers of bacon and three mushrooms left or half a can of baked beans in the fridge.

What do you do?  You know what I'm talking about, we all find one tomato or slightly off-perfect pepper.

What do you do with the odds and bits that - I'm really sad to say - many people would simply dump in the bin to avoid the question?
Not 'mushroom' for this in your meal..?

What do you do..?

It seems a trivial matter this, but it's not really.  It matters a lot. When so many people struggle to put a healthy meal on the table or eat at all - please, I'm not trying to be overly melodramatic - then we really should all take a minute to think before we chuck.

If you'd like to comment here, that would be great.  I've not tried anything like this before, but I'm interested in what you have to say.  Or you could continue the chat instead on my Facebook page at mikegetscooking.

As for the Christmas pudding.  Well. It looks rather relaxed to me knowing that, unlike the hapless cucumber, it's the SAS of foodstuffs and can hang on in there surviving low temperatures without a second thought.

I could mention this to my wife, of course, but she'd accuse me of rummaging.

Let's not go there.  I think I'll go and reorganise the airing cupboard again.  Just for laughs.