Thursday, December 20, 2007

OK, a bit off of topic, but at least it is holiday inspired . .

An Interview with Santa
With the 2007 Holiday season upon us, the continued recall of many children’s toys due to excessive levels of lead paint and concern about toxic levels of PVC used in toys has left many parents wondering which toys will be safe to purchase for their children. Following is an interview with Santa, who discusses how he is dealing with the current crisis.

With the holiday season upon us, what is the big, in-demand toy this year?

Santa: This year, it isn’t any specific toy that is in demand. Because of the recent spate of toy recalls due to lead paint, and concern about PVC used in plastic toys, parents are demanding an assurance that all toys are produced using high-quality materials that are fully traceable back to source – all in an effort to ensure the toys their children play with are safe and free of dangerous chemicals and other substances. What this has translated into is a renewed demand for hand-crafted, classic toys that spark the imagination of children.

Well, isn’t that what your Elves are trained for: To hand-make, imaginative toys with care?
Yes, the Elves have always prided themselves on producing the best quality toys. Through the years they enjoyed creating traditional trains, dolls and blocks, for example, but as technology has advanced, they also have added a contemporary twist to these toys such as a new color, a designer wardrobe for a doll, or electronics that teach children how to spell in another language.

You look a bit worried and haggard. Are you anticipating too big of a demand for toys?
In recent times, demand has been especially high as parents have asked me to deliver more and more toys for their children. This is in contrast to my early years when one high-quality, hand-made toy was all that was needed to make a child excited on Christmas morning.
Unfortunately my workshops are empty this year. Like so many other industries, market demand and increased competition from low-cost mass producers drove me to cut costs. The only way I could compete was to outsource the production of Christmas toys to China where labor and production costs were a fraction of what I was paying my Elves. With China easily meeting the increasing demand for more toys, and producing them at a fraction of the amount it cost me to pay my Elves, my only choice was to let my workforce go and outsource to China.

Wow, how did you handle laying off the Elves? You had worked together for so many years.
It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. Mrs. Claus begged me to reconsider. To think about the Elves and their families. To think about how loyal they had been to me through the years, and how their skill in making toys couldn’t be replicated if made elsewhere. But she too knew, deep down, that if we were ever to continue to be the primary supplier of toys for Christmas that we had to keep up with parents’ increasing demands and move production to a cheaper locale.

How hands-on were you with the production and the quality control once manufacturing moved to China?
I never thought for a moment that the toys I was now buying from China would be of lesser quality than those the Elves produced in the workshop. I didn’t personally visit each factory, and perhaps that was one of my downfalls. Now because I let market forces, rather than my heart, drive my decision, poor quality, shoddy construction and poisonous paint have marred my reputation as the primary supplier of toys for children at Christmastime.

How will you deal with the current crisis?
As I mentioned, parents are once again asking me to produce hand-crafted high quality toys – much like those the Elves made years ago. Now with my workforce gone, and no way parents or the Consumer Products Safety Commission would allow me to deliver toys made in China, I’m not really sure. When I downsized, many of my Elves who had been with me for 20 or more years took early retirement, while the more novice Elves simply changed their profession and have moved on. Many took call center jobs in Indonesia.
My credibility within the toy industry is marred. I now have the same reputation that many other big businesses do, in that the consumers view me as solely dedicated to the bottom line instead of the quality of the product and the people who devoted themselves to me for so long. I’m not sure I can find a dedicated, experienced job force willing to commit to the long hours necessary during this time of the year.

Well then, how will you keep up with demand?
To help keep up with demand this year, I have contacted many grandparents who, in their own retirement, have taken up the hobby of hand-making classic toys for their own grandchildren. With so many Baby Boomer-grandparents around the world reaching retirement age, I am looking to build relationships with many of them to produce their specialties, whether it is wooden trains, hand-sewn dolls or whatever toy they enjoy making.

Will you continue to work with this skilled labor force in coming years?
Definitely! The Elves’ quarters are now in the process of being converted into a vacation timeshare where grandparents can visit for one to two weeks each year. During that time, they will have access to my workshop, tools and materials to create some truly spectacular classic toys. By working with a wide network of grandparents from around the world, no single grandparent will feel the pressure of having to mass-produce toys in an assembly line fashion. Instead they can produce at their own pace, putting a bit of love into every toy they create.

That sounds a bit like your old business model when you had the Elves on board.
Yes it is. I have learned my lesson the hard way. But I think those grandparents can remember the joy they had when they found one special toy under the tree when they were children. Now they can help me bring that joy to their grandchildren. Through this expanding network of “Grandparent Elves” I feel that I will be able to fill the stockings of children around the world with toys that inspire the imagination of children once again.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Ok. It is the Oreo cookie that has resurrected me from the depths of four kids and lack of sleep. It has been months since I've even attempted to update this blog, but last week I received a Domino's Pizza flier in the mail. I could hold back no longer.
I'm sure you've all seen the flier: In addition to all the calories, fat and other 'unhealthy' things packed in a Domino's Pizza, now (albeit only for a limited time), comes the Oreo Dessert Pizza!
I have yet to try one, but feel I must just to say I have. Although I dread the sick feeling I will undoubtedly have after consuming so much sugar and . . . who knows what!
This decadent concoction features a dessert-style thin crust, topped with vanilla sauce, Oreo cookie crumbles and white icing. My son, who is 4, saw the picture of the 'pizza' and immediately declared "I want one!" What kid wouldn't? A plate full of sugar, goo and stuff kids shouldn't be fed.
If I am to taste this thing, I will have to do it late at night when the kids are sleeping (leaving no remnants for them to find in the morning). Otherwise, if they try it, I'm sure I won't hear the last of it. I want it now!
Who are these people that come up with such ideas. yes, decadence is what desserts are all about, but do we have to go overboard and entice anyone who has already consumed a boatload of unhealthy calories via the pizza, with another artery clogging, heart-stopping, offering?
Yes, I will succumb, and try a bite. But will quickly return to something that won't take 10 years off my life . . .
perhaps a bit of fruit. Hmm, maybe even a piece of cake - but at least I know what I put in my cake!

Monday, May 14, 2007

I have to admit, I'm a skeptic. And I was a bit skeptical when I was first asked to meet with someone to discuss fortified coffee. I'm a coffee purist - and have been since I started writing about coffee nearly 15 years ago. So, when someone asked me to sit down and learn a bit more about this new innovation for the coffee industry, I had my reservations, but also was intrigued.
Fortified foods - we all consume them, even if we don't realize it. From cereal to bread to water and juice, science has found a way to make foods more beneficial to the consumer. In fact, I don't even think about it when I drink orange juice fortified with calcium, or cereal with added vitamins and minerals, but my coffee? My sacred cup of black coffee?
Actually, it is an interesting concept. Why not fortify coffee? It is a widely consumed beverage, so why not get a little something extra in it when you enjoy your coffee, latté, or mocha?
My meeting was held at the recent Specialty Coffee Association of America annual Conference and Exhibition. Earlier that morning, I sat in on a panel discussion that touched on the "Third Wave" of coffee cafes. In the past couple of years, the term "Third Wave" has come to represent those coffee cafes which have refocused on the community, offer more traditional beverages (as opposed to offering a broad spectrum of milk-infused coffee beverages) and are generally small in terms of number of outlets. These Third Wave cafes are manned by well-trained baristas who love to connect with their customers. As the panel discussion progressed, they came to the conclusion that Third Wavers are simply those cafe owners who are re-embracing the world of coffee. Going back to their roots. As they do so, they are representative of an evolving specialty coffee scene. I guess that is what fortified coffee is part of as well. As we take a look at the next 'new' thing in the specialty coffee world, this seems like a natural progression.
As I listened to the story about fortified coffee, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that this unique 'fortification' process doesn't alter the taste of the coffee at all. It doesn't affect the roast, it isn't an additive. It is simply a process that can add a whole host of beneficial qualities, even calcium to my morning cup of coffee.
Well, if it doesn't change the taste of my favorite brew - and it gives me something good for my body, then I'm all for it. While it has yet to hit the cafes, keep an eye out for a fortified brew at your favorite watering hole.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Finally I'm back to the blog. The twins arrived at the end of December, and our recent move to a new home has kept me from writing. But something caught my attention today, spurring me to make the dive back into the blog.
We have a cat, and have been aware of the recent pet food scare. While we weren't driven to prepare home made food for Kona - after all, I am now a mother of four and getting food on the table is a bit challenging. However, the latest news is that there is evidence that the ingredients imported from China that have traces of melamine, may have be found in additives used in livestock feed as well as additives to human food. While this substance has yet to show up in our food supply, the ingredients are known to be used in bread, pizza, baby food and many vegetarian dishes.
Just one more thing to worry about in regards to our food supply chain. Every time I prepare something for my family, I now wonder if it is going to be harmful. We do a good job of making food choices - leaning towards whole foods rather than processed, etc., but total abstinence from the foods that may harm us is nearly impossible. And, I, like many of you, were caught unaware of the fact that melamine, which is typically used in products such as countertops, glues and fertilizers, could ever be considered to be used in food.
I still await delivery of glass baby bottles I ordered last week so that I can protect my twins from the potential harmful chemicals that are used to make many plastic baby bottles. This week, I walk through the market wondering if the choices I make today will turn up on the news tomorrow. Who knows what next week will bring?