So the less than svelte taster of food for the lefty classes decides to try out the festive nonsenses available on the food shelves this year:
I mean really, has anyone ever really felt more Christmassy because Walkers have released their special edition brussels sprouts flavour crisps? That’s crisps, which taste of cabbage. By design. It’s not just a dreadful idea. It’s bad manners. How about winter berry and prosecco crisps from M&S? Or prosecco and elderberry crisps from Tesco? Or, in an attempt by Kettle Chips to be both weirdly patriotic and awkwardly Christmassy, truffled cheese crisps with “a splash of English Sparkling wine”? The word “splash” there makes me think of reaching into a bowl of snacks at a dreary Christmas party, to discover someone has accidentally emptied half a plastic cup of fizz all over them.
The issue is not food product innovation itself. Good NPD is a serious skill. It’s gifted us many great things, from salted caramel to ciabatta. It’s specifically Christmas food product innovation that’s the problem. (Not all of it, mind; there are some classy products in this month’s taste test.)
Most things fail and all things fail eventually – as the once teenage male finds out decades later. The trick is to find a method of working out which things don’t fail for that brief period.
Some millennia’s experience of this civilisation idea tells us that the best way to do this is to allow anyone to have a go. The technological envelope keeps changing, the things that people desire to have done changes as taste does. Frumenty becomes minced meat (no, to Americans, it ain’t meat) or possibly kasha, the new availability of sugar makes Frosties possible and so on.
We just allow anyone to try anything and throw it at the wall to see if others like it. There are thousands – no, really – of new soft drinks tried out every year, perhaps some two or three a decade move into large scale and long term production.
The Dog’s Bollocks flavour of crisps tried out by Jasper Carrot is as much a part of this process as the rather more successful Fried Egg and Presunto (no, really, our local supermarket currently).
That is, what Jay Rayner has just noted is the joy of markets, markets with free entry – and exit – for any damn thing people want to try out. The only pity is that neither he nor his readers in The Observer will grasp the point in the slightest.