Sunday, March 25, 2007

Pairing Wine with Cheap Frozen Food

A few months ago I blogged about President's Choice putting WINE SUGGESTIONS on the back of their "upscale" line of frozen foods. The world of quick meals is a large one, and it's only now that I've run across the possible origin of this ridiculous "TV dinner wine" idea: Stouffer's Bistro Italiano.

On the back of my $3.99 package of frozen Italian Sausage Cavatappi (aka "freeze-dried noodles, dessicated tomato sauce, meat shards") is an advertisement for Sawmill Creek wine. It takes up so much of the total package area that I had difficulty finding the cooking instructions. It shows well-groomed, upper-class people sitting amongst Renaissance paintings and statuary. Their table is adorned with the finest crockery (but I notice you can't see what they're actually EATING).

Under the weird picture -- and I'm not making this up -- "The SAWMILL CREEK Shiraz-Cabernet has a round fleshy fruit mouth feel that blends well with the gamey herbaceous meaty flavour of this savoury pasta dish."

Krasny! Come back to reality! This is a single-portion frozen dinner which comes IN ITS OWN BOWL. Nobody is going to go out and buy three or four of these, microwave them (for six minutes), and place the plastic bowls on the fancy table amidst the statuary. Even assuming that somebody would be deceptive enough to dump the "gamey herbaceous meaty" food into Their Finest Crockery, it still wouldn't be cost effective OR pass muster. People do not serve single-portion frozen dinners within ten kilometers of wine. IT JUST DOESN'T HAPPEN.

So let's try to figure out what Stouffer's is up to. They KNOW this is stupid, but they're doing it anyway...they're devoting a huge section of their packaging to promoting something that is totally laughable.

There must be reasons, and here they are:
  1. It's a cross-promotion with Sawmill Creek wines. They're banking on upper-middle class bachelors with reasonable incomes; enough money to buy wine, but not socially connected enough to "dine well" every night (and even the richest people stoop to Tim Horton's donuts now and then). I say "bachelors" because of the four people in the picture, one is a man, and he's surrounded by pretty women with weird hairstyles.
  2. They're "upscaling" half of their brand. By charging an extra dollar and giving wine tips, they're separating themselves from "regular" Stouffers, supposedly calming the anxieties of people who are afraid that buying frozen food makes them look cheap. They still have the cheaper stuff available, so they're hoping to either capture a new demographic or coax the rest of us to buy the more expensive stuff.
So this is a curious advertising technique: everybody knows it's stupid on the surface, but the ad agency assumes nobody cares about what's "under the hood." They're getting kickbacks for advertising another company's wine, and they're making you feel better about eating frozen food, AND they're selling it at a higher price (even though it's surely made by the same pasta-squirting machine).

Why did I buy it? It looked tasty. But lots of other food looks tasty and actually IS tasty, so I'll chalk my Sausage Cavatappi up to "experience."

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