Photo: Lifetime

Always Bet Red?

This author isn't sure Supermarket Superstar's buyer made the right call last night.

Until last night, I've agreed with Tom Dahlen, the buyer on Supermarket Superstar, on his picks for who should get their products developed and proceed to the finale. I wished the cricket-snack dude could have gone further, but I understand why he didn't.

And it's not like Dahlen's pick from last night -- Jen's Red 101 sauce over Avesta's cheese-splosion -- is an outrage. His rationale is solid. But that doesn't mean I don't have questions.

How did Jen and Avesta arrive at the unit prices?

It seemed like Dahlen's main issue with Jen's is the price point: $7.89, which is high even if you can get two "meals" out of it and a non-starter if, like Dahlen, you want people only to get one meal out of it so they'll buy more. Sure, the 101-uses branding is clever, but at most, you've got seven or eight uses, and if you want a red-sauce product that broad-ranging and versatile, you buy a pallet of Pomi and tweak it yourself.

But Dahlen and the panel made it sound like, once "bought," Red 101's price could be gotten down -- so why wasn't it in the first place? And if she switched out the fresh tomatoes already, why is it still so high? What, she's jarring it in upcycled glass? Tomatoes have had a rough few years, and if you purchase pizza by the slice frequently, you've seen the apologetic display-case signs about the price increases it's caused downstream, but seriously: what else is going in that sauce that sixteen ounces is nearly eight bucks?

And…$6.19? Who let Avesta put a .19 on there? That's Big Lots pricing. $5.99, lady. It's a psych thing. She's better off marking the price up than having a .19 on there.

Why buy the more common product that you have to fight to get people to accept at a higher price point?

Jen's branding was on point from Jump Street: the double meaning of 101, the scalability to other kinds of sauces (green, ginger, etc.). But her packaging didn't do a lot to stress the versatility, and the fact is, it's going to get shelved with the Ragus and the Pregos -- and get its expensive ass kicked -- instead of with the horseradish sauces or the rubs and marinades, where it might have half a chance.

Avesta's is pricier than is ideal too, but it's far easier to position, in my opinion. Put a huge 5 on the packaging to set it apart from other four-cheese sauces; stress that it's for mac and cheese; and scale that, too. An orange 5: cheddar-based. A paler-orange 5: mild cheeses, for kids. A blue 5: a challenging grown-up version with some Roquefort in there. Mention on the back that it's great as a dip or on hot dogs and cheese steaks; emphasize the combination of convenience and elevated palate Avesta is going for here. Why isn't that a smarter call for Dahlen?

Because in my view, any product that you can scale for palate, and market for and to children, is the one you should buy, every time. Most kids don't hate red sauce, but they don't care about it either; it's almost never that one thing that they agree to eat. Mac and cheese? Targeting busy parents who are nevertheless a liiiiittle scared of the orange powder? Gold mine.

Chris Cornyn, the ad guy, talked at length about how the mac-and-cheese aisle hasn't changed in ages, and Avesta's product could bridge the gap between homemade and orange powder. Yeah, it needs tweaking, but all these products do, and this time I think Dahlen missed the boat.

For Careers Week we ask:

What other shows would Tom Dahlen do well on?

He's plenty busy with this and his day job, no doubt, but I'd like to see him on

  • The Profit (food/retail companies)
  • Project Runway
  • American Pickers
  • The Voice
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