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Misunderstanding and Misuse

It is understandable (although not always true) that when traveling and doing touristy things, you may lead yourself to believe that you understand the people, culture, and language of where you are visiting after just a handful of days there. Millions of tourists visit Hawaii annually, and unfortunately, “learn” information that is usually regurgitated by a guide, concierge, server, or someone else without docent-type knowledge of Hawaiian culture. And because humans tend to teach how and what they’re taught, (mis)information is passed along in such a way.

Here, a well-meaning sales or marketing person at Cost Plus World Market in Lynwood, Washington, tried to capture some essence of Hawaii to hawk its goods (Photo Credit: Robyn Weber)

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First, the erroneous spelling bugged me. Second, I assumed that he or she participated in a large scale dance to the Hukilau at a luau while on a trip to Hawaii, and got confused between the two. Third, I thought that it was a wonderful day for emailin’ the old Internet way.

I kept it short and respectful. After all, I have been a tourist before, and I am sure that I was ignorant about something while traveling–not that I am not ignorant at home. Anyway…. Here is what I wrote to World Market’s Customer Service Department:

It’s not exactly my experience, but a friend who was shopping at the Cost Plus World Market store in Lynnwood, WA, posted a picture on Instagram of signage near Hawaiian products. The sign states, “Are you hungry for a hu ke lau?” I just wanted to point out that 1) It should be spelled “hukilau” and that 2) the question makes almost zero sense, as a hukilau is a type of Hawaiian fishing technique. The products near the sign have nothing to do with fishing.

 

Thank you,

Mike

 

Fifteen minutes later, how great is this?! A response. A form letter nonetheless, but there is hope that someone learned something, and the sign will be corrected.

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Meat is Murder. Tasty, Tasty Murder.

I was having lunch with colleagues at Tip-Top a few months ago, with our conversation headed towards the usual “safe” topics suitable for the work environment: child rearing, household chemicals, and breakfast meats. That’s when I learned that the price of Libby’s corned beef in the black and red can (the ONLY corned beef that matters in Hawaii) has skyrocketed to over $6. Just last year, a can of the stuff was under $3. Even when it was cheap, the can was still under lock and key.

Typical key from a can of corned beef

The price of the oily, shredded beef left me in shock. Even gas isn’t this expensive. Hawaii deserves an explanation, as we all know that there is no cheaper alternative. Palm Corned Beef? It’s better to eat a dead cat from the highway.

I wanted to get the lowdown on the beef straight from the horse’s mouth. Email Libby’s parent company, ConAgra Foods. Why has the price of Libby’s Corned Beef (in the black and red can) become so expensive in the past year?

I received a reply from a Consumer Affairs Representative who goes by the name “Gina” within two hours. Note how they refer to it as “Hawaiian Corned Beef.”

Thanks for your email Libby’s Hawaiian Corned Beef.

ConAgra Foods understands the importance of delivering great tasting, quality food at a value. We appreciate that you enjoy our Hawaiian Corned Beef and took the time to email us. ConAgra Foods continues to focus on providing consumers with high-quality product at a great value.

Due to the increasing costs of food ingredients, transportation and packaging materials, ConAgra Foods needs to increase prices on some of our products from time to time, to ensure we can continue to provide the same quality and value that you expect from us. The final decision on pricing is up to the retailer and may reflect the expenses of running the local business.

Thanks again for your feedback, Michael. I am sending coupons your way via regular mail, with the hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products.I hope you have  a great day!

I sat at my desk staring at my email, unsatisfied and offended. How dare they answer me with a form letter, and try to appease me with coupons?! Anyway, I eagerly awaited the coupons in the mail, thinking I’d get free corned beef.

But nosiree Bob! The coupons were horrible. One coupon lets me save 50 cents, and another tells me to enjoy a free can of either chili beans, pork and beans, refried beans, ranch style beans, stir fry sauce Chef Boyardee ravioli, or vienna sausages (the blue can–not even the yellow variety!).

Coupons that ConAgra mailed to me for asking a question

I didn’t trust “Gina’s” answer, so I dug deeper locally. I copied and pasted my question to ConAgra and emailed Koa Trading, Y. Hata, and HFM. None of them replied. But I did learn that HFM stands for Hawaiian Flour Mills. Remember there used to be a pancake mix brand that came in a “Hawaiian print” box sold at local grocers? That was them.

Since none of the middlemen replied, I resorted to asking retailers.

“You know, Walmart has  hard time keeping Libby’s corned beef in stock. We get two or three cases in, put’em on the shelf, and they’re gone in a day. I’ll tell our manager to get more next time. Maybe that will drive the price down,” said an associate named Jordan from the retail giant’s food department. Thanks.

Hmm. I wonder if mom & pop types have a different experience. “Braddah, I know what you mean. You gotta think twice befo’ eating corned beef nowadays. But I dunno, our vendor sometimes not able to send our corned beef until two or three months afta we order, you know? My operations manager is bringing in Palm and other brands to offer cheapa alternatives. Oh, and if you like da kine corned beef hash, the one with the small potatoes? Going be expensive pretty soon too.” I must thank Shawn, grocery manager at Ishihara Market in Waimea for the heads-up on corned beef hash.

Should I ask Times? It’s hard to trust them, when they monopolized Lihue’s groceries. Worth a shot. Maka, a grocery supervisor, was very helpful and professional. “As you may know, Libby’s is an imported product, and may have some heavy taxes placed upon it. I believe the cans say it’s imported from Brazil. I also heard that our distributors are having difficulties in getting corned beef from their farmers.”

Libby’s “Black” Corned Beef at Times Supermarket

Two hours of Googling Libby’s Corned Beef + tariffs turned up nothing. Finally, a search for Libby’s Corned Beef + shortage revealed that recalls caused a canned beef shortage in 2011. Apparently, contaminated meat sources led to the US banning imports from some Brazilian suppliers.

Why do we have expensive corned beef? Supply and demand, folks.

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