June 22, 2010
by Sarah Harper
Year after year, the arrival of spring is warmly embraced by department stores across the land with an exuberant display of shiny patio furniture and barbecues in the stores’ showrooms, with their store shelves suddenly restocked with a vast array of grilling gadgets, cookbooks, cleaning supplies and anything else that may pass for being an essential accessory to the impending BBQ season. And why not? According to one recent consumer report, more than half of Canadian households own a BBQ or an outdoor grill set and, I presume, most of the other half wish they did, but simply can’t because they’re not permitted to use them where they live for fire safety and other reasons. Either way, there’s a very healthy market niche out there for manufacturers of all the different BBQ supplies and trinkets, but while the evolution and development of fancy new grilling tools and gadgets in recent years has been very impressive, the packaging for these products has not really kept pace in that time—often coming across as a last-minute afterthought, and not always a very good one.
This certainly applies to the Master Chef Cast Iron Fajita Platter—sold in these parts by Toronto-based Trileaf Distribution—whose fairly flimsy blister-packs feature pegholes at the top of the package, presumably so that these fairly heavyweight iron pans can be hung up on hooks at the store for maximum exposure. Whoever thought of this must have been expecting these pans to become instant sellouts, as I can’t see these pieces of iron just blissfully hanging around forever. Sooner or later, their sheer weight is bound to cause them to come crashing down from their pegs—with the real risk of nailing a store worker or customer right on the toes, ouch! Also, the lack of any care and maintenance instructions, or some cooking suggestions, is a serious oversight, to put it mildly. Surely providing a few tips on keeping this
iron pan rust-free for as long a possible would be the bare minimum a consumer could expect. And while many of us may have seen these pans being used at Mex-Tex food restaurants to make sizzling-hot fajitas, both the dish and the iron pans are still not exactly the sort of mainstream everyday items, at least in Canada, that can take consumer familiarity so very much for granted.
This packaging flimsiness also extends to the Master Chef BBQ Tool Set utensils ensemble, with the half-clamshell packaging providing neither a good fit for the individual utensils—a simple light tug prompts the BBQ fork to slide right out of the plastic casing—nor anything significant in terms of reuse possibilities. While I can appreciate the need to keep packaging costs low, and the environmental impact of packaging minimal, I suspect that many consumers out there would be willing to spend a little more money to purchase a similar item that provides the convenience of its own storage case or compartment—saving the grief and inconvenience of finding adequate cupboard space for such over-sized utensils.
On the other hand, the Master Chef Hot Dog Roller kit offers a compelling example of how seasonal products like this one should be packaged—inside a sturdy, distinctly-decorated cardboard box that makes it a snap to “retire” the product inside a cupboard for duration of the next winter season, without collecting dust somewhere in the basement or garden shed, or getting lost among a pile of other household stuff. Nice and simple, with clear and easy-to-read instructions on the back—another serving of that, please.
Cleaning supplies seem to be one product category where grilling-season items largely fall in line with their year-round mainstream counterparts. Case in point: the 6 Disposable Grill Wipes pack from Grate Chef, using just the sort of a packaging format one would expect to keep these moistened towelettes clean and ready-to-go at any time—the good old resealable pouch. Jazzed up with fiery red-and-yellow graphics, the foil-lined pouch also makes this handy six-pack a perfect companion for camping trips and countless other outdoor activities where water and cleaning aids can be in short supply.
Such resealability is notable by its absence on the bags of Wood Smoking Chips from the Grill Care Company, which lets an otherwise wonderful product down with a substandard package that is virtually guaranteed to cause an accidental spill or two at some point during its lifecycle. Not only could the bag itself be a little thicker, and hence more puncture-resistant, but it is also one of those products that could really benefit from having some handy instructions and recipe suggestions included on the packaging, as simple photographs of a finished dish are really not that helpful in themselves for the less-experienced BBQ aficionados in our midst.
Conversely, the Charcoal Companion Kabob Baskets from The Companion Group—ingeniously designed for cooking kabobs without having to use skewers—provide an excellent example of using packaging to clearly illustrate how to use these clever contraptions with simple food images right on the cardboard strips underneath the elongated grilling baskets. Moreover, the packaging back-panel provides both a recipe and care instructions, although be prepared to commit those to memory after your first use—there’s really not much packaging afterlife potential there. Sometimes, creativity and practicality just do not make for a happy co-existence.
Sarah Harper, an assist
ant category manager for frozen foods at a leading national grocery chain, lives in Milton, Ont.