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(NOLAN PELLETIER FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
(NOLAN PELLETIER FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

How the ol' grocery store trifled with our diet – and our emotions Add to ...

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Our grocery romance started years ago with your bread pudding, a perfection of sweet and soft and crunchy and creamy. We grew to love your scalloped potatoes. Your espresso ground coffee wound us up every morning (both the original version and the later one you improved).

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Your lemon tart really did taste as though it came from a Parisian bistro, just as you said it would. I served your flourless dark chocolate torte with a homemade raspberry coulis for my daughter’s birthday. Your namesake salmon mousse ring was at every holiday lunch.

For years, your frozen, skin-on, marinated chicken breast was our go-to meal at the cottage. When we’d arrive, we’d turn on the barbecue, pull a box of the chicken breasts out of the freezer and toss them on the grill; open a beer, throw together a salad and relax with an easy, tasty meal. It meant weekend. Here’s a confession: It may be unfashionable to like the skin on, but we did. Here’s a compliment: You had the marinade just right.

When we couldn’t find the frozen chicken breasts any more, we thought there had to be a temporary mix-up. Eventually, my husband sent an e-mail to customer service, and he called head office to leave a message beseeching you to bring them back. No one ever replied. We still talk about that chicken, and it has been at least four years.

A nice thing about your bean-and-cheese burritos was that they were universally popular at our home. In a big family, how many times does that happen? They were nutritious and delicious and every time they came out of the oven, anyone in the kitchen would remark how pretty the dinner looked and how good it smelled.

Here’s how our family liked to prepare them: Line up seven or eight of them in a 9-by-12-inch glass baking pan, cover with extra-mild salsa, add a couple of handfuls of frozen corn and sprinkle grated Mexican-cheese mix on top. After about 40 minutes in the oven, it was a great meal for us all – vegetarians too. Our teenagers and their friends gobbled them up. We could have had them once a week without complaint. We bought them by the case and kept a large supply in the freezer.

Now, along with everything else mentioned here, the burritos are gone.

Apparently you’ve replaced the delicious burritos with some other brand at every store we’ve visited. That new brand is far too spicy. The paltry filling has a questionable consistency. They’re not half as good, and they’re twice the price.

I asked the local store manager if he could order some of the yellow-wrapped kind we liked. He said no. “Good luck,” he offered. He said we could fill out a card and make a request from head office. He couldn’t do anything to help. He said you now make a lot of money from other companies that pay you to promote their products over your own.

Sometimes, it was hard to tell when something truly was gone or if it might suddenly reappear. You were reliably unreliable at the best of times. Our dear espresso coffee came back twice. It was like a miracle each time we’d see it on the shelf again. We would happily fill our shopping cart, giddy at the find. But eventually it did not return.

The search for many of our favourite products turned into a treasure hunt across the city. It was hard to plan a menu because at least one of the necessary components would be missing. Sometimes we were stubborn and we’d drive to the next nearest store in your chain trying to track down the missing ingredient. Other times we just changed our plans. You let us down. You were wasting our time.

Every year, you publish flyers with all your new products. This is quite a tease. After you’ve enticed us to try something new, we might just come to like it. We might come to love it. We might even stop making our own because your version is so darned good. And then, without warning, you’d stop the supply, leaving us like an addict without a fix.

Research shows that the average family relies on a surprisingly small repertoire of favourite meals. When a food is eliminated, we notice. We miss it. It’s not just a benign deletion of a ledger item for us: Those favourite foods were meaningful to us. You trifled with our diet, and our emotions.

We were disappointed in you so often, and for so long, that when a new big grocery store opened in the neighbourhood, it didn’t need to court us. We drove straight to its parking lot and didn’t give a look back in your direction.

No, the new store doesn’t have our favourite, special things. But at least we have a clean slate. I hasn’t abused our needs and our loyalty, or neglected and disappointed us. There’s a chance for a healthy new relationship.

Oh yes, during the holidays, we saw your television ads. There was a street party with happy people eating little salted caramel cream-cheese desserts on a stick.

They look delectable, but we’re not falling for it this time.

Anne Ellis lives in Toronto.

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