It seems that as far as my life is concerned, the ninth year of the calendar decade has some special significance. Let me explain.
It’s all in the anniversaries you see. Let’s run through a few of them.
2009 was a year of particular joy and sadness for us. Our grandson was born; Maria’s sister Flo and my parents passed away. It was also the occasion of our first Transatlantic cruise, and we spent some special time with former Unilever colleagues. We had a wonderful day in Spain with Gerrit and Janny Willemse, and finished up in Vlaardingen with our other friends Ellen and Rob Bons.
In 1999, Sarah was finishing up her undergraduate degree at Guelph. We spent March break in the Netherlands and Maria visited Amsterdam for the first time. Sadly our first great cat (the fabulous Brio) passed away in September. But shortly after that, we welcomed the gray panther Sammy into our lives.
1989 was a year of some interesting family travel. We made our 3rd March visit to Texas, and spent time in San Antonio and Corpus Christi. In the summer we went to Denver, saw the American Rockies, took the train to the top of Pike’s Peak, visited Aspen and even survived a drive on the Phantom Canyon Road. You can look it up.
In 1979, we had career and life milestones, as we moved to Georgetown from Montreal and I started a new job in the flavor industry. Maria began teaching with the Dufferin-Peel Catholic School Board. Sarah turned 2. It really doesn’t seem all that long ago.
Now we’re starting to get serious. It is 50 years ago that I graduated from Queen’s and started my career as a food scientist. Go figure.
In 1959 I graduated from elementary school – it was a brand new building to support the up and coming Boomers. It was on to an old high school that would be gone in 4 years time – replaced by a big secondary school in a neighboring town. Progress I guess.
I was around but don’t remember much. I know it’s not polite to tell their ages, but Maria was born that year and her mom celebrated her 20th birthday. You can do the math.
There you have it. I don’t know if 2019 will be memorable, but if so I hope it is in a good way.
My first 10 years in the food industry were spent with two major companies – General Foods and Standard Brands. Eventually these two giants were merged with Kraft foods. Later on Kraft and Heinz got together and in 2017 this mega-company almost took over Unilever. If this had happened about 30 years of my career in the industry would have ended up in one company. Mind boggling.
This past week Kraft-Heinz took a beating on the stock market as they wrote down the value of some of their iconic brands like Kraft cheese and Oscar Mayer.
The name of the game in this whole writedown thingy is good old fashioned Disruption. What was in the past, will not be in the future – so there.
Disruption happens with employees as well as companies. Look what’s happening in General Motors Oshawa and Lordstown right now. And I must admit that it happened in my own line of work.
50 years ago when I started working in the food industry, all the majors had some sort of product development lab in Canada, as well as a bunch of factories. As a food scientist, it was my job to use my technical knowledge to develop “convenience foods” to make it easier for the homemaker. Whether it was main dish (Shake ‘n Bake), side dish (Noodles and Sauce), or dessert (Whip ‘n Chill) – we were there.
As time went on though these products became less and less relevant in the marketplace. I suppose there were a number of reasons:
Convenience foods at home were taken over by fast food away from home. Less meal prep at home means less “convenience” was needed.
There was a marketing trend to slag the convenience foods because of “food additives” “preservatives” “artificial whatever.” There has never been any proof that these so-called “chemicals” were bad for you. But it is what it is.
Many of the brand name convenience foods were replaced by generic knockoffs sold by supermarket chains – products that were just as good as the mainstream brands.
If one were to criticize the convenience foods as a group they probably introduced too much sugar and sodium into the diet. But again this was because of cost/profit considerations, and hey – we had to make money, right?
Even a fine product like Becel – which has a good health story – has become a victim of marketing doublespeak. Now they emphasize its “plant based oils” rather than the fact it’s low in saturates and high in polyunsaturates. Unilever has even sold the brand as part of its efforts to evade the Kraft- Heinz embrace.
The other disruptive force – in the Canadian food industry at least – has been creeping consolidation under the Kraft-Heinz umbrella. This particular mega-company has always aimed to cut costs and consolidate everything in the US. There has been a never-ending progression of food plant closures all over Quebec and Ontario that can be attributed to Kraft. And Kraft never did any serious product development in Canada – even in the 1970s.
So these days food prep at home seems to be dominated by the need to have “fresh and natural” ingredients. The fact that some of this stuff is grown overseas in dodgy conditions is immaterial I guess. Look at the Listeria and E. Coli outbreaks with fancy romaine lettuce.
Maybe we used preservatives back in the day – and they were actually fairly natural ingredients that you find in say, cranberries – but at least we didn’t make anyone sick.
I suppose disruption is a normal phenomenon – just ask Blockbuster Video or Nokia – but at the same time it doesn’t always make things better. That’s my take on it anyway.
This is our 14th winter in Almonte. We knew when we moved to the Valley we would be in for a robust winter experience.
In moving from Georgetown to Almonte we didn’t just move east. We went northeast, following the St. Lawrence, and then another 60 miles north of the river. Almonte is on the same latitude as Huntsville, Ontario or Minneapolis for that matter. Don’t expect mild winters.
The absolute worst we had as far as snow goes was 2007-2008. That was second all-time in terms of snow accumulation. The photo above was after the worst week in March 2008 when we had over 80 cm of snow in 4 days. We didnt see the ground that winter from November to April.
This winter won’t get close to that one. In fact it started out rather wimpy. We had some early snow, enough for the grandkids to do this:
But by Christmas Eve it had all melted away and only enough white stuff remained to cover the grass and technically give us a White Christmas.
January changed all that with bone-chilling cold and close to a meter of snow. February has been up and down – cold and sunny a few days, but mostly we’ve had freezing drizzle and ice pellets.
Now it may be time for Snowmageddon, if the worst expectations of the forecasters happen. We could get two snowstorms this week with 30 cm in the first one and 20 cm in the second. When it comes to winter in Almonte it’s deja vu all over again.