A few days ago, I wrote about salted and unsalted peanuts. An 8-ounce jar of Planters salted peanuts had been advertised for 99 cents. An 8 1/4-ounce jar of Planters unsalted peanuts had been offered for $1.69.
I said I couldn't understand that kind of pricing. If a company goes to the expense of removing salt from a product in which salt occurs naturally, a higher price is justified -- just as one expects to pay more for decaffeinated coffee than for coffee that has not been decaffeinated.
I said it seemed to me that there is no justification for charging more for a natural product than for a natural product to which salt has been added.
Store managers to whom I expressed this opinion always agreed with me but added with a shrug, "That's the way the product is billed to us, so we have no choice. We charge more for the unsalted nuts because they cost us more."
The day that column appeared, I began to receive phone calls from peanut roasters and packers.
The gist of what they had to say was that I was right. If anything, it costs a fraction of a cent more to produce a jar of salted nuts than to produce a jar of unsalted nuts.
For example, Phil Rosen, president of the Barcelona Nut Co., headquartered in Takoma Park, told me: "To make unsalted nuts, you package them as they come from the roaster. To make salted nuts, you put them through one more process to add the salt. The labor cost for the extra step is almost nil. The cost of the salt is almost nil. There's less than a penny a jar difference in manufacturing cost. There is no justification for a difference in price."
"I'm a cashew freak," I said. "If our tight controls on peanuts imports are temporarily eased because of the domestic shortage, from what countries will we buy nuts?"
"A lot may come from China and India," he said. "I haven't tasted Chinese peanuts but I have tasted Chinese cashews and they're delicious. They're smaller than our domestic cashews, but much sweeter."
Very interesting. But if I eat a bag of them, will I be hungry for another bag an hour later?
Howard Stonesifer phoned from New York to confirm that there is virtually no difference in the cost of manufacturing salted and unsalted nuts. Howard is a spokesman for Standard Brands, which makes Planters peanuts. Interestingly enough, he suffers from hypertension and must therefore keep his own salt intake to a bare minimum. He knows how important unsalted foods are to millions of people.
"Planters began testing public acceptance of unsalted nuts some years ago," he told me, "and we found there was a very good demand for them. We now have unsalted peanuts, unsalted mixed nuts and unsalted cashews on sale in just about every major market, and we sell our salted and unsalted nuts at exactly the same price. I might add that all of our product lines reflect our awareness that many people are on restricted diets of various kinds. For example, the Fleischmann's corn oil margarine that we brought out for those who are concerned about cholesterol has been very well received by consumers."
As soon as our chat ended, I felt like kicking myself. The minute I hung up, I realized I should have asked him, "If you charge the same amount for salted and unsalted nuts, why do Washington stores charge so much more for the unsalted ones?"
Oh, well, I think I'll drop by our company cafeteria and ask if I can have a bowl of unsalted soup if I'm willing to pay 66 percent more than they charge for their oversalted soup. MARYLAND, MY MARYLAND!
Cyril Lang is a teacher in Montgomery County. He has been charged with a very serious crime: he tried to expand the minds of 10th graders by acquainting them with writers such as Aristotle and Machiavelli.
The school superintendent wants Land suspended, and a hearing began on Wednesday. The hearing was closed to the press and public. Lang will be tried in secret.
What else would you expect in a stage that has been run by the likes of Spiro T. Agnew and Marvin Mandel? What else would you expect in a county that is embroiled in a liquor scandal and an attempted cover-up?
What are you trying to hide in that Star Chamber procedure, fellows? Why are you refusing to conduct public business publicly?