Thursday, February 16, 2012

Anatomy of a Starkist Lunch Kit

Walk with me into a mostly empty Walmart Supercenter a little while before it begins to get crowded on a Saturday afternoon. There's one or two people looking at produce. Two or three people are in the clothing section. You can't see how many people are in the health and beauty aisles because we entered closest to the food aisles, but there's probably four or five people there, spread out amongst those aisles.

We'll go into the cereal aisle because it's one of the widest in this part of the store. In a second, you're going to see one of three things happen: A few people are going to pass by one end of the aisle, or a few people are going to pass by the other end of the aisle, or a few people are going to come into this aisle that you didn't think this store had right now what with how empty it looked when we walked in.

It's not you. It's me. It's always been me, or, rather, me and my family. We always attract people. The line's been empty at Chronic Taco and we walk in to order, and as we do, six people walk in behind us. We take an empty checkout lane at Ralphs or Pavilions or Sprouts or Trader Joe's (which doesn't seem possible because it is Trader Joe's after all), and three or four people line up behind us with their carts. I don't know why this happens. I don't mind it, but do we have something in our personalities that people sense as something good to be near? It's never that other checkout lanes are crowded. There's a few open at a time. But they always line up behind us. It's not coincidental. It happened when we were in Henderson too. I bought a toy food truck at Smith's (hot dogs, burgers, and sodas, with four little hot dogs lined up on one counter, three drinks lined up on the other counter, and two burgers and fries lined up on the back counter), and three people lined up behind us to check out. In fact, I said to Mom and Dad that we could go to the Strip at that very moment, and help Las Vegas's economy recover quickly. I would have suggested testing it, but we had a lot to do in Henderson. But I do think the Henderson economy benefited from us visiting.

I don't seek this. It just comes. And I don't mind it, except when it impinges on what I like to eat.

Last Saturday, we went to the Walmart Supercenter on Carl Boyer Drive to do some food shopping, and I remembered that I needed the Starkist chunk light tuna salad pouches that I like for lunch during the week. In the tuna aisle, I found a crowd (though not caused by me or Mom or Dad or Meridith), and none of the pouches. They'd all been taken, along with what seemed like all the Starkist chunk light cans.

It's a sign of the economy, I know. People are looking to get protein more cheaply. I also know that this Walmart doesn't restock quickly, but on a Saturday afternoon, this was inexcusable.

I kept looking through the shelves, hoping that the regular chunk light Starkist pouches I found might also have a few tuna salad pouches. Nothing. Meridith dug through the bottom shelf and found a few of the chunk light cans, so that was a relief since I needed more and I was not going to go without tuna in any form.

Mom then saw the lunch kits Starkist has. The tuna salad pouches are in there, sealed with a smaller foil pouch of crackers, a napkin, a spoon, and a mint. Nearly $2 for this, so I took one since I wanted at least one pouch.

I had the kit today, putting the tuna salad pouch in the fridge after breakfast because I wanted it to be cold, and I really want to know what the thought process was in putting this together. Because whoever did, whether it was one person with a marker and a dry erase board, or a group of people that should be paid more because they deserve it, really knows lunch.

During the week, breakfast gets the body going. Cereal, juice, toast, fruit, a quick egg concoction, whatever it is, it makes you more awake than you already are and pushes you to the entrance of the day ahead.

I've always seen dinner as the heaviest meal of the day, with more time to experiment, order takeout, try a new recipe, or just heat something up in the microwave. There's usually nothing pressing that comes after dinner, so there is that ease of going for what you want, even if it's a few hundred extra calories.

Lunch is that bridge between both. You have to eat, and if you're at work, you have either 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or an hour for it. It can't be too heavy because you have to go through the rest of your workday, nor can it be too light because your stomach's going to distract you from your work.

The Starkist lunch kit knows that balance. There's the protein in the tuna, some grain in the crackers, and I guess a little sweetness in the mint, though I wish they'd change that. A mint is not an entirely neutral candy. I don't like mint, but if they changed it to a butterscotch candy, which I like, not everyone likes butterscotch. Easy to see that you can't rely on a decent dessert with this kit, but that's probably not the point. The point is the convenience of lunch in such a lightweight kit.

The tuna salad is as I've always known it to be, with bits of water chestnuts to give it crunch. Open the cracker pouch and you'll find that they've got a plastic compartment of their own, six crackers sitting in two stacks of three next to each other. The little plastic tray is as flimsy as it gets, in keeping with the correct belief that lunch isn't about deep concentration. You have to eat and move on.

The plastic spoon, which has an opaque smoky look when you peek through it, and the napkin are why I wonder about who decided what to put in this package, namely because I want to know who made the napkin and the spoon. The napkin is exactly what you'd expect a lunchtime napkin to be. It'll pick up a little mess, but not everything, because that's all anyone really expects to make at lunch. The spoon is not the kind of clear plastic that'll snap if you bend it back far enough. When you bend the spoon back far enough, the handle bends with it.

I really want to know how much thought was put into this, if lunch habits were studied, and how many meetings went into creating this kit for production. I don't think Starkist would ever tell me, but they accurately pinpointed the feeling of lunch with this kit. My sole beef remains with the mint, but not only because I don't like mints. Open the blue foil and you'll find a blue mint trying so hard to become a teal color. It looks like a sample toilet freshener, too small to use for an actual toilet, but the same kind of shape. Meridith said that this kit used to have a striped mint, which seems more appropriate for this, but it looks like they wanted to keep with the blue the packaging has.

Having only bought the kit for the tuna salad pouch, I wouldn't buy it often. I never have crackers with tuna. I only eat the tuna, either out of the pouch or the can, and then I usually have a rice cake with peanut butter after. But Starkist is doing something right. I never thought any company thought hard about lunch beyond providing the necessary products for it, but here is proof.

[Note: Starkist didn't pay me in any way for this entry, nor provide a coupon to get the kit for free. This was all me, another example of how my mind will go anywhere for a topic.]


  1. There is a phone number on the package. I have not called that particular company, but I am almost sure they may be able to provide you some answers. It's in the interest of customer service that they do these things. I love the call centers, and the lovely people that work at them.

    You seem to be a people magnet. Better yet, a consumer magnet. You're the good luck charm of the merchants. I wouldn't be surprised if any one of the places you frequent in your future at Henderson took you on as a local spokesperson. You might get some free food or swag.

    I, too, have a similar nature. But mine is of the competition kind. If I'm in a contest with people that believe that having me on their team will make them win, we win.

    I got here from your interview and guest post on Bloggerati. I thanked G for having you on there, and I'll thank you for providing an exemplary blog to follow.

  2. Welcome! I'm happy to have you here.

    I'll put that on my food-related to-do list, as I first have to find out from Sysco who made the pumpkin pie I want so badly to have again, and try to find the peanut butter that made such a huge impact on me at Walt Disney World.

    A consumer magnet sounds right. Mom, Meridith and I got to the food court at the Galleria at Sunset mall in Henderson a little after lunchtime when Dad had his job interview at the Clark County School District offices, and we filled that place up yet again, not only because it was lunchtime. I waited in an empty line at McDonald's with a security guard ahead of me getting a large Dr. Pepper, waiting to get a caramel hot chocolate (I tried the iced version that Meridith got and liked it enough to get it my way), and five people lined up behind me.

    There was a movie in 2003 called The Cooler, in which William H. Macy played a loser type who walked around Alec Baldwin's old Las Vegas casino, standing near gamblers, causing them to lose. It seems that I'm the polar opposite.

    Thank you for your praise of my blog, and I hope you'll stick around. I'm never without anything to say, and on those occasions when a day or two go by between entries, it's because of my research for my book.

  3. I love The Cooler. When I join your family, I wonder if you'll still be people magnets. It will be so interesting to see what happens when I change the family dynamic. We may find we have the world to ourselves (I have mentioned a few times that I don't wear perfume). I like the toy food truck. It would look good with my gas trucks and gas pumps. The truck drivers and the people buying gas need a place to get food.