By George Capsis
Even I, the Publisher of WestView, am sometimes surprised by how good our contributors’ articles are. One of the best was Russell Neuman’s price comparison of Hellman’s Mayonnaise, which dramatizes the insane differences in food cost.
If you still have the June issue, I suggest you re-read the article. Russell discovered a 100% mark up between Hellman’s on the Jersey shore ($3.99) and in the West Village ($7.99).
There is something else you should know about Hellman’s— you can’t open a food store without it.
Some years ago, when European currencies had a dramatic fall against the dollar, I started International Market Development to offer market entry strategies for European companies who, at last, with cheap currencies, could break into the U.S. market. I found that most of my clients were family-owned French companies, one being Mayoland—perhaps the only factory that made mayonnaise in France.
I mean, no French housewife would be caught offering a store bought product; you had to make it fresh. But, with wives going to the office, the prepared Mayoland product took hold in France. The company asked me to discover if it could get into the U.S. market.
Normally, if you made an appointment with a food buyer connected to one of the big supermarket chains, you would be directed to a tiny cubbyhole where a gruff, hard-balled buyer would listen to your pitch with clenched teeth. He would then cut you short and tell you why your product had no chance in hell of going on their shelves.
But not with Mayoland Mayonnaise! To our utter astonishment, we were ushered into an executive office’s at Pathmark where a gaggle of svelte, high-level executives heard our pitch with supporting questions—we were with friends!
Finally, I asked why we had such a royal reception and the CEO calmly explained that Hellman’s had a virtual monopoly on mayonnaise. “You can’t open a supermarket without Hellman’s,” he calmly explained.
“They tell us what price we can sell it at and what our margin will be.” They hoped that a French product might crack Hellman’s steel grip on the mayonnaise market.
Oh wow, what an opening! But, unfortunately, the President of Mayoland spoke no English and the nice, hip export sales guy I was working with (a University of Miami graduate) could not get him to offer the product in the dairy case and position it as a “fresh” product. Also, the packaging was poor.
I have asked our skilled Design and Production Manager to blow up the superbly-detailed price bar graph so we might better read it. (With the purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon, we may see a hybrid of cheap online buying with local availability.)
Again, I thank Russell for his excellent article and look forward to reading his next one.