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The Cost of Convenience

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Yesterday I made a stop at the local yuppie-mart to pick up an item for a client. Cruising through the produce section, I saw fresh pineapple for $1.39-lb. In another area of the produce section there were containers of the same pineapple that had been cut up. There were two size containers, the smaller of which was selling for $9.99-lb and the larher of which was selling for $8.99-lb. Outrageous prices, imo opinion, even considering the amount of "skilled" hand labor that goes into cutting up a pineapple and the amount of waste generated - skin and core. Actually, when I get pineapple, I use the core.

Do you find the markup on prepared fresh food to be as great in your area? Do you buy such convenience foods? Why buy these items at such inflated prices?

shel
post #2 of 24
usually not.....but I saw one of my French chef buddies use 5# bags of cut onions, carrots etc the other day at a "assemble your own meal" place. He has one helper and needed to make 12 (4-6 serving) meals for a couple, + fill the freezer/fridge with sous vie meals. I once saw the price on cut up melons from Sysco in nice plastic containers....just about blew my mind.
$35 for what would have been two nice size melons, which on an average day would be about $2.50 each.

Think about the mark up of any food professional, we have loads of expenses most people do not see. It's got to be the same for the company producing the value added product. Expensive equipment, labeling, advertising, insurence, salesmen, less amount of freshness time, profit, etc......

That's why you pay $7.50 for 2 eggs, 3 pieces of bacon, grits/potatoes and toast. The ingredients are under $1.....it's all the other stuff that goes with that breakfast.

So, what's your day job in which you are serving pineapple to a client?
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post #3 of 24
Thread Starter 
HI.hroom ...

This is a market, so there's no additional advertising or insurance expenses (of which I'm aware). What expensive equipment? No salesmen involved.

Not serving pineapple at all - just noticed the price differential. I had to zip into the store to pick up a non-food related item for a client.

s
post #4 of 24
That is why when I teach my home cooking and family nutrition classes, I demonstrate these <convenience> costs.

To demonstrate I cut up 4 whole chickens in pieces and give one recipe per piece (including a broth).
Then I total the cost versus buying individual parts... what a difference for a little elbow grease.

I'll admit that the markup you are showing here Shel is borderline gouging!

Luc H.
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I eat science everyday, do you?
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post #5 of 24
I get the feeling that those cut up convenience fruits are really the ones that have seen better days and need to be sold or thrown out. Whatever they're selling them for is getting them a far better profit than the dumpster would get them. Even with figuring the cost of packaging and having one of the produce kids cut them up, they're making a bundle.
post #6 of 24
Thread Starter 
Here, at least in the stores I frequent, buying whole legs (thigh and drumstick) is often cheaper than buying a whole bird. However, it should be noted that I don't buy pre-packaged chicken (the kind that comes in the plastic trays), only fresh, so that may have something to do with the price structure.

Something else I've noticed: fresh birds and pieces stay fresher and more useable longer than the plastic wrapped chicken when properly refrigerated. I've noticed this as well with ground turkey. Plus, a lot of the plastic=wraped pieces have a water content of between 3% and 5% (the label says it's retained water from processing), effectively adding to the cost of the prepackaged (convenience) item


s
post #7 of 24
I don't make it a point to buy convenience foods. The chopping and other prep is part of what I enjoy about cooking. I have no desire to just throw things into a pan. There is one place where I will compromise for the sake of my budget. It makes no sense but around here, I will pay $1 for two really poor quality bell peppers but can get a 16 oz package of already chopped bell peppers for 99 cents. Crazy! We tried growing peppers but didn't get very many this year so they're already long gone. Until I have my own, I'll make do with what saves me the most money without sacrificing quality.

Another strange thing I witnessed this weekend. Scotts (division of Kroger) had a huge tasting event all over the store. They were showcasing their deli foods and other items for the holidays. Their cheesecakes were good but for $12.99 each, I can make them for less money. Then I got to the smoked salmon cheese ball which lovin both cheese and salmon, I had to sample. This stuff was awesome! The kicker is that for the $3 they were asking for it, there is no possible way, I can do it for less. That is one item I will buy pre-made, at least until the price jumps.
post #8 of 24
Our produce supplier not only charges outragously more for precut products, they're usually not very good. Though I can't remember the pricing, we use to get precut mushrooms for our pizzas and they were all too thin, barely washed, and would only last maybe 2 days before going brown then tossed after 3 days. Preshredded iceburg lettuce, only available at 8kg would last us just the 1 day. We would occasionally grab a few kilos of precut carrots and celery for large catering orders requesting veggie trays but then they'd be covered in some liquid that smells very unnatural.

Sometimes they're a great time saver but I personally hate getting anything precut for us and would only do so as a last resort.
post #9 of 24
What you say is true everywhere but...
in class I give separate recipes that uses 8 thighs, another for 8 drumstick, then 16 half-wings, 8 breast filet and 8 breast (and also stock from the trimming) then total up the cost in chicken to make all that.
After I compare with chicken parts purchased separately. BIG difference in price for the same effort except for some elbow grease to cut up the birds.

That was what I meant before.

Luc H.
I eat science everyday, do you?
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I eat science everyday, do you?
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post #10 of 24
Yes, it's the cost of convenience, but if the average yuppie-income is $80 an hour (conservatively speaking, that is), then is it worth it for the yuppie to spend a half hour cutting up a pineapple and cleaning up afterwards? This is what economists call opportunity cost. The time used for low-cost menial work means giving up time for high-income work. If the yuppie were to lose $40 for the time cutting pineapple, he'll pay up to abouy $39 for someone else to do it for him. Same thing would not happen in your non-yuppie market.
post #11 of 24
Shel - that's almost a criminal mark-up! If ppl buy those products all the time they'd be wasting sooo much money. If its an occassional thing when you have limited time - they fill a niche.

I think there's no excuse for pre-shredded icebergs - I laugh when I see those packs. And pre-cooked new potatoes bugs me. Pre-packed salads with the dressing sachet make my stomach churn - yukk. Maybe the local suppliers here are not very good here, but every time I look at one (and I love fresh salad) there's no way I would get one. Even when they are supposedly fresh, things looked wilted and the tomatoes are horrible. Blecch.

Then onto the deli counter. Prawn skewers in various marinades are a pet peeve. Convenient again - but the price!!! How hard is it to stick some raw prawns on a stick and drizzle a sauce over? I have used them, but only rarely. Most of what I do is from scratch. Tastes better -costs less.
 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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 Don't handicap your children by making their lives easy.
Robert A. Heinlein

 
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post #12 of 24
In my kitchen, chef and I are the only 2 skilled workers amongst about 12 heads behind the counters. Everyone else are basic labour workers with only experience and no schooling and you'd be surprised at how many don't know how to cut carrots and celery for veggie tray dip or at least, how many times I have to show someone how to do it then repeat it because they can't get it the first 10 times. I got 1 lady who after 2 months, still can't understand how the manual can opener works when its simply lift the handle to expose the blade, raise it, and heres the part she can't understand, slam it down to puncture the can, lower the handle to lock the blade, then turn clockwise. I keep seeing her bring down barely enough force to cut paper every time she uses it.

In cases like this, I don't have much choice but to use precut vegetables when I'm busy cutting up beef, building a lasagna, searing chicken breasts, basic cutting isn't beyond me, I actually prefer that kind of prep work but I sometimes don't have the time to do it or do it along side someone who isn't properly trained when I have other stuff to do. Same goes with the chef and he has less tolerance of incompetence then I do. Then later, we'll both get in 5hit from the director for either why everything is late, why wasn't everything prepared yesterday, why was everything prepared yesterday and not fresh, why are we using precut vegetables, or whey aren't we using precut vegetables. Yes, I wish I had a gun for moments like that.
post #13 of 24
Thread Starter 
This is what we call a red herring. When at home, and not at work, there is no lost income.

shel
post #14 of 24
Thread Starter 
There's a difference between what must be done to keep your restaurant viable and what the home cook does.

shel
post #15 of 24
Thats $166,000+ per year. That isn't "average" yuppie-income in my mind. That is Top Tier average income according to the Fed that calculates these things every 3 years, and just published one.

doc
post #16 of 24
I never understood pre-cut and pre-packaged food. I guess it's just a time saving expense that people are willing to pay. I am not one to follow along with this trend. I think that cutting my own produce and meats ensures that they're the way I like them.
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post #17 of 24
Makes me think I'm in the wrong business!
post #18 of 24
One of my basic beliefs is, "Everything comes down to time, money or some other medium of exchange." Cut your own veggies, fruit, chicken, etc. and you will save money, but you will be investing your time and effort.

I learned very young how to cut up a chicken to save $.20 a pound. You couldn't buy pre-cut veggies and fruit where I lived in the '50s and '60s, so that wasn't an issue. But there are more and more cookbooks, recipes sites and tv shows (Sandra Lee, Robin Miller and, increasingly, others) with pre-cut ingredients playing prominent roles. My take is that people who cook like that don't want to learn knife skills but want to cook rather than buy take-out or prepared foods. I suppose it's healthier, too.
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post #19 of 24
Thread Starter 
But not necessarily healthier than buying whole veggies and cutting them up yourself.

Hey, there's often a pkg or two of some frozen veggies and fruit in the freezer here, both for times when I need some convenience or for emergencies. There's a time and place for such items, just as I suppose there might be for pre-cut packaged produce, which I do not, and will not, buy.

shel
post #20 of 24
marion burros has advocated buying precut food from the salad bar......

Never interested me, if I'm saving time it'll be take out or just having someone else cook.
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post #21 of 24
Absolutely not true, especially if one is a yuppie. As a yuppie-type, one is paid on salary and expected to work more than 40 hours a week, especially if one is to do the moving-up part of yuppie-ness.

What you call a red herring is actually your wish to be blind to the reality. You're going to compete with yuppies for goods? You'd better be prepared to meet their prices and, yes, their prices will be based on their income.
post #22 of 24
In that sense, that person shouldn't be working in a kitchen regardless if its for a 3 star restaurant or some sloppy joe's cafeteria. I'll do what must be done but I can't think for others, its not my job, its not my responsibility but doing so usually will result in me having to resort to using premade or preprepared which ends up costing us more. Drives me nuts but I don't do the human resources so I have no say or power to effect changes unless that person is willing to learn.
post #23 of 24
Where Shel lives? You're kidding, right? Perhaps when you average in rural Kentucky, but I'm sure you're aware of the problem with averages.

PS.. the average salary where I work, yuppieville of sorts, is over $220,000 and I'm in a much cheaper area.
post #24 of 24
Thread Starter 
This morning I was at the local Trader Joe's, and noticed that they now have pre-cut and diced pineapple - $2.99/lb compared the the store I first mentioned that is selling the stuff for $9.00 - $10.00 a pound. Remembering this thread, I decided to try the product to see what it tasted like. Not bad - it seemed reasonably fresh, and it's certainly convenient. Were I to be using the ingredient in a recipe, like for a sweet and sour sauce, it might make sense in some instances to buy a container. At $2.99 it's a bargain, although TJ's also has frozen pineapple oieces for even less per pound.

shel
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