Saturday 24 March 2012

It's all the way you package it...

Wrapping it up nicely obviously works. If it didn’t, manufacturers wouldn’t waste millions making packaging companies and advertising agencies rich.

If I ever needed proof, it has just landed on my desk.

Marcia is understandably quite excited about her new shop. The trucks with all the materials to build it have still not arrived allowing even more time for her eager anticipation (and impatience) to intensify. Our current little shop has done well. I call it an African Trading Post because that is what it is. It has tiled floors, not swept mud, and glass in the windows, even a false ceiling and electric light as well as freezers and coolers but the lack of aircon, crude wooden shelves and counter lend it an impermanent, out in the bush air.

While hanging on to her existing client base, Marcia wants the new shop to be significantly further upmarket. Certainly the building will be. It will look something like a Black Forest Delicatessen and will be built out of wood on sturdy supports so that customers can sit and drink coffee or whatever on its wide wood decking and look over the surrounding countryside. It’ll be nice.

For that reason, our current stock range which, if only for reasons of filling the shelves in a shop six times larger, is inadequate.

At the moment our shop is not called a shop in Portuguese, it is called a Cantina. This is only one step up the ladder from a ‘Janela Aberta’ an ‘open window’, the sort of hole in the wall shopping experience you only get in the rougher neighborhoods where letting a client into the shop is asking for trouble. Marcia does not want to be known for running a Cantina. She wants to be referred to as the owner of a Loja, a shop. In order to guarantee her social aspirations, she has been searching for products worthy of her new emporium and, as I mentioned at the beginning, one such product has just landed on my desk.

A 500g pack of Milaneza Lasagna sheets (from Portugal) costs around 400 Kwanzas here, about 4 US$. We sell 500g packs of Fortaleza Spaghetti (made in Brazil) for 100 Kwanzas. Both make excellent bases for Italian pasta dishes and both fly off the shelves. Both are simply packaged in unimaginatively designed but functional plastic bags. Same goes for the tortellini, fettuccine and macaroni. At least you don’t have to worry about patching the layers of lasagne, half the pack is already no more than irregular sized patches, such are the hazards of transportation.

‘How much does this cost?’ I asked, admiring the packaging I had first thought contained a bottle of malt whisky or something else equally worthy of such care and attention to detail.

‘700 kwanzas’

‘700 Kwanzas! What would you have to sell it for?’

‘I paid 700 for this packet just to show you. The supplier says if I buy in bulk he would give me a big discount’

‘Did he also say he had plenty in stock’

‘Oh yes, how did you know? He says he’s got loads!’

I could tell by the condition of the Pasta visible through the cellophane box window and the condition of the packaging in general that there was no real need to check the sell by date but I did anyway. Good until 2014. This is a box of pasta that is already at the pricier end of the market in UK. Sainsbury’s sells plain lasagna sheets for a dollar but sell Garofalo Lasagna at three dollars. I was going to have to sell it here for seven dollars but if Marcia could negotiate a bulk reduction then we might at least break even if I can resist turning our profit into Lasagna-in-my-stomach. Sometimes you drop lucky but generally, if a wholesaler has plenty of stock and is offering discounts, there’s a reason for it. Let’s hope that in this case the average Garofalo Pasta buyer does not shop in Lebanese run warehouses and that his regular buyers weren’t willing to take the plunge when they can sell as much Fortaleza as they can carry.

The thing is, it was always my intention to go up market. Starting at the budget end was a realistic option faced with operating off a building site. Certainly we could never expect to sell Garofalo products out of the existing shop. That is one reason I bought the other piece of land closer to the main road (and out of reach of the sea) and have paid enough to make sure the new shop will be nice.

‘I think this is a brilliant idea, Marcia’


‘I think it is very clever to devote half the new shop to higher quality products to attract the more discerning client’

She looked at me clearly unable to decide if such was sarcasm and deserved a kick in the teeth or I was being genuine.

What Marcia has forgotten and I haven’t is that I want to build a large cold smoker and start preserving some of the excellent fish being hauled out of the sea on our doorstep. There is a fish here the locals call Maccarao but when I look it up on the internet to get its latin or English name all I come up with is Portuguese macaroni recipes. It is a fast full bodied fish weighing anything from 15 to 25 kilos and its flesh is pink and makes ideal sushi. The South Africans next door call it Kingfish but then they seem to call a lot of fish Kingfish so I can’t be sure. It fights like hell and will take all your line unless you let it ‘take you for a walk’ which is how the fishermen here refer to having to follow the fish with the boat until it gets tired. It would not be the first time that with muscles burning I have said to the boatman, ‘here, you take the bloody rod and I’ll drive’.

I reckon it would smoke beautifully and am convinced it could be the African equivalent of Scottish smoked salmon. In Germany, there is a company called Lava which makes vacuum packing machines. The one with my name on it is a heavily discounted thousand US (with a 400mm triple sealing self cutting head, ooh, sexy). If I had my cold smoker, I could smoke filets of this fish and any other likely candidates and package them properly for sale in the shop. Quality products for a quality shop. I could also similarly package the Parma style hams I am going to produce after air curing them in the rafters of the thatched Jango.

So you see, if I encourage Marcia in her quest for quality products, I am one step closer to my smoker and vacuum packing machine. And it will all have been her idea.

‘Tell me, Marcia, what made you go for this particular product?

‘Well, the box was so nice…’

Now there's a business plan.


  1. Posh pasta?

    You need a smoker; all men need a smoker. And a vacuum packer.

    I recently bought an electric boiler for making beer. I explained to Mrs IG that it would allow me to boil up in the shed, thus preventing the house from being filled with steam and the smell of hops. She swallowed that. It now lives in the kitchen, filling the house with steam and the smell of hops.

  2. IG

    Need is a much abused word, along with other words such as fantastic and awesome, or truth in the mouths of politicians. A need is something that must be satisfied if some debilitating circumstance is not to ensue.

    Clearly, as a man not prone to hyperbole, you understand my need for a smoker and a vacuum packer just as I understand your need for your own home produced beer.

    Women may consider such desire merely a whim or if in any way productive, with crushing condescension, at best hobby when it is actually the more agreeable way for men to cope with marriage.

    I would love to hear all about your beer making. I am desperate for a decent pint of real ale and am having the top shelves in the bar of the Jango made wide enough for me to store the fermenting demi johns so I would be delighted to tap your knowledge.

  3. Hippo

    Smoker sounds good very good, has Marcia not yet considered the idea of having local 'nonnas' make pasta for sale? Gotta be someone growing durum and semolina near you?


  4. SBW, the answer to that is no. There is noone growing anything near us. Everything is imported. Locally they are now producing milk and other dairy products such as yoghurt (but not cheese), bottled mineral water and we are seeing some local beef production and eggs. Naturally there is a brewery making piss and a factory turning ethyl alcohol into vodka, whisky or gin depending on the chemical flavourings they add.

    The Cuca beer factory has shut down for one of two reasons according to the locals. That put about by adherents of the Universal Church suggests that the Government is concerned about the amount of alcohol being consumed by the population so shut the factory down, the other that the factory was putting the interests of the smaller brweries owned by influential Generals and party officials in jeapordy, so the government closed the factory down. In my opinion, both groups are talking codswallop. Lack of maintenance has caused the plant to fail and it will be on line again soon(ish). In the meantime, everyone has to either choke down the local alternatives or pay double for imported beer.

    Nothing is straightforward here.

  5. "Local semolina"? What kind of locavore tree-hugging hippie weirdos are you attracting to this site? Next thing, they'll be recommending you run an African food truck selling Angolan-inspired cupcakes.

    I read these comments to my wife (minus the crunchy green one from SBW) and caught heck for it. Something along the lines of, "cope with marriage!? You wouldn't make it one day without us. You'll think 'cope with marriage'...." and some other mumbling comments referring to boy parts and not befitting a good Christian woman.

    I'm just happy I didn't get punched in the gut.

    My "hobbies" (dogs, guns, fly tying, raising fowl, &etc.) have slowly been relegated to the back yard over time, and I may be suspicious, but she keeps talking about building a "grandmother" residence back there, too; for "guests" and such, she says...

    SBW, really I'm with you on this one, although I'm guessing that Hippo's local upper-end clientele firmly believes that if it ain't from Europe, it's crap, and they'd rather eat their own shoe soles than consider the health, taste, carbon footprint and empowerment that comes from local cuisines.
    What you can do, Hippo, is advertise them as "HAND-CRAFTED EUROPEAN inspired ARTISAN". Just make sure the "inspired" is in about 5 point font. Simultaneously, sell the local label to the foreigners patronizing your resort.

    Then, when they take off as the most amazing and fresh pasta (and can you believe it comes from Europe?), you can move it into the cities as a regionally perfected item, playing on nationalist pride.

    And speaking of your resort, get us some pics of those fish, and I'll look 'em up. I want to show them around to some fru-fru flyrodders, too, and hopefully bring some business your way.

  6. Well, Josh, since we are being free and easy about taking the piss out of each other's comments (no finer way, I wish we were doing it with a glass or two of IG's beer) your idea of handcrafted European is daft as SBW's idea of a load of mammas kneading dough (mind you if I could find some nice young ones in short skirts and low cut blouses... No, and don't read this comment out to her indoors).

    I was lying in the shallow part of the river having had a good wash. It was slack tide and the water was as slick as a mill pond when a big fat fly buzzed too close to the surface and ploughed in. I sat there as still as I could with it only two feet in front of my eyes buzzing away when all of a sudden, a quick ripple and it was gone.

    Half may land may have been wasshed away but it has created a shallow sand bar area in the river which just has to be fly fished.

    It is late now so I am off to paint my face, smoke a spliff and weave baskets out of pasta dough.

  7. I love the idea of having a smoker, and yes, it makes perfect sense.

    As for packaging, i am sometimes a sucker for that as well, although i'm more for function over aestethics. If the posh packaging means that the product is more safely contained, then i might be willing to pay a bit extra, but if it's something that i'm going to break up anyway, not so much.

    If your shop can cater to a variety of tastes and range of pocketbooks, then i think your place shall be known as a Loja in very short order, especially once you get a more permanent structure built.


  8. Ah, Megan!

    I love the way you skilfully steered clear of the Women are from Venus, Men are from mars stuff! You can join us for a pint anytime.

    In fact we should all go round to IG's place and sample his no doubt excellent home brew. Mind you, he would probably only set the barrel up within the barbed wire compound of Stalag Plot IX and only crack it once we had all worked up a sweat turning sods.

    The shop'll be sweet, I'll see to that and I'll build the smoker there. I haven't yet swung the idea of beehives yet. I have no intention of putting beehives full of African bees in the garden but if Marcia thinks I am serious, I'll get authority for the smoker and the vacuum packer instead and put the beehives on this other piece of land in the forest I have just got my dibs on.

  9. Thanks, Tom, i could do with a pint!

    Turning sods...Hmmm, that would be John G's baliwick moreso than mine wouldn't it?

    sorry John, with such a great opening, i couldn't resist ;-)

    Ooh, i could say something with another double entendre, but think it best to stop now.


  10. Ah, I was just giving SBW a hard time because he posted over at his blog both a video on bison restoration and some comments from a man who publicly supported Sarah Palin for President.

    Basically, he was doing the sort of thing I'd have done at my old blog.

    I'm all for beer at IG's. I'll bring some nettle beer done up by a new-found brewer friend of mine. I'll be on the East Coast in May, so maybe I'll just take a quick hop over the pond...

    Hippo, pictures of fish, please! Also, don't underestimate the down-homey "ethnic" pitch to the incoming resort customers. I could probably build you a client base of folks happy to relieve themselves of your money for a chance to get a "local" feel for Africa... without the parasites, of course.

    Take it where you will.

  11. Ooh, you are naughty Megan. But I like you!

    Josh, I have to admit I was a bit perturbed when i saw the recommended author supported Nutty Palin but, hey, I voted Liberal once... And some really good writers had some strange ideas.

    I will get you all the fish photos I can. I just have to wait until I catch some first...

  12. Josh,

    "Also, don't underestimate the down-homey "ethnic" pitch to the incoming resort customers. I could probably build you a client base of folks "

    A nice idea, but maybe you should come here first... But you are right, here you can get a feel for rural Africa without all the artificiality of tourism. The only thing is that compared to the more established resort countries like South Africa and Kenya, for example, this place is undeveloped, basic and very expensive, both to get here and to stay here.

  13. What's funny is that I love both the Orion Institute (who piss off a bunch of hunters and non-hunters, alike, due to their holier-than-thou attitude) and David Petzal. I feel a kindred spirit with SBW, which is why I rode him: I saw that I could have written his suggestion, and saw how hippie it was, and loved it and wanted to rip on it at the same time.

    My kids are going to be screwed up somethin' fierce.

    And for your description: "this place is undeveloped, basic and very expensive, both to get here and to stay here."

    I read that as "honest" and "exclusive". I really should be selling real estate.

    There are a few organizations that actually get clients to pay to come down and do "development" projects. You can pitch yours as a "work hard, play hard" place. Get some folks to help get your community up and running by building water treatment, PV solar, smoke-houses for the local economy, and then catch some monster fish and learn about the local ecosystem.

    Man, I'm itchin' bad to help out. I'll stop now, and try to let it go...


Please feel free to comment, good or bad. I will allow anything that isn't truly offensive to any other commentator. Me? You can slag me without mercy but try and be witty while you are about it.