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20% off everything at Lunchsense!
Oct 25th, 2010 by Nancy

One great looking lunchboxI was setting up for a trade show earlier this year – always a fun, if sweaty and laborious, day because we biz owners get to catch up with each other since the last show – and had a welcome exchange with an old friend.  She (another retailer) and I were comparing notes about the economy and how we were weathering this “Great Disruption.” Her outlook?

“Flat is the new growth.”

I had to agree with her – the last two years have been brutal to most small businesses – but I’m pleased to say Lunchsense is beating the odds and actually growing, slowly but surely.  It’s a lot more work spreading the waste-free lunchbox message these days, though, and I’ve been trying to find that sweet spot of deals, offers, promos, whatever, to keep sales hoppin’ and still stay in business.

I’ve avoided many typical promos (buy one, get one free; spend $X.xx with me and I’ll send you a free, um, food container!; send a friend my way, and you’ll get a coupon for another purchase) because I’ve found that they have one thing in common: if you buy enough stuff, you will get even more…stuff.

But what if you don’t need more stuff?

This drives to the heart of my business philosophy.  I AM in the business of providing you with an effective solution to a long list of lunch-packing problems, but I am NOT in the business of pushing stuff on you that you don’t need or want. After all, I got started on this whole love affair with a durable, washable lunchbox because I hated throwing away half a dozen baggies a day, not to mention the leftovers in them.  So I chafe at being asked to buy more in order to get the best deal – it just feels wasteful.

If you don’t need it, I’d really rather you not buy it, at any price.

You, of course, are absolutely right when you say, “thanks, but I can decide for myself what I do and don’t need.”  Yes.  True.  I wholeheartedly agree.  I also agree, wholeheartedly, that “need” can be defined many ways: I am absolutely certain we all “need” art and music and beauty in our lives, for example.

But to hold that which you need hostage  to a “if you buy just a little more, I’ll throw in free shipping!” sort of teaser just doesn’t sit right with me.  I’ve been tempted by – and succumbed to – promos like these.  But even if the bargains are good, I don’t like feeling that my relationship with a company is defined only by how much I buy, not by what their products do to improve my life.

And yet, I still very much want your business, and I know that it’s risky to invest in a lunchbox (a lunchbox!) especially if you really have to count every dollar these days.  For me, there’s only one way to sweeten the deal without tainting the exchange:

Everything at Lunchsense is 20% off, now through November 18. Coupon code is BLOG20

(Note that the coupon code is case sensitive, by the way.)

That’s going to be the best (but not the only) discount on Lunchsense through the end of 2010, and for the sake of transparency I’ll share those other deals with you now:

After November 18th the sale doesn’t go away entirely, but the 20% turns into 10%.

And everybody with a US address (including, of course, APO/FPO) who orders up on the website on November 29 (the Monday after Thanksgiving, also known as cyber Monday) gets free shipping.

I’m not tinkering with the deals to be a meanie.  I’m only trying to smooth out the seasonal rush, thereby increasing the likelihood that I’ll get everything shipped with plenty of time to spare for the gift-giving holidays.  If you figure out what you want, then find that you’d save more by getting the ‘10% discount + free shipping’ than the ‘20% discount + shipping’, then…I’ll see you on the 29th, yeah?

So yes, please, get your order in when it makes the most sense for you, and check that off your list.  If you see the need, that is.  And yes, please, tell your friends about this deal if you think they’d like a lunchbox too!

About that “tell your friends” thing – I do feel immeasurably grateful to you for doing so, and I’d like to show that gratitude – what do you suggest?  What is a useful, meaningful expression of gratitude to you from a company you do business with?

“Changing the way we think about lunch,” indeed.  How ‘bout changing the way we think about stuff?

Nancy's Yogurt: what customer service should strive to be
Oct 20th, 2010 by Nancy

nancys_logo_wstarsI wrote a few weeks back about how and why I gave up my fax number, and mentioned that I’d have a nice customer service story as a follow-up.  Here it is:

Awhile back I bought a small tub of sour cream (Nancy’s brand – a local dairy) and, upon opening it found it was laced with grainy little bits.  The sour cream tasted fine but the texture was unsettling, so I pitched it and dropped the Nancy’s company a quick email explaining the problem.  I didn’t have my receipt, and it was only a couple of bucks’ worth of sour cream, so my highest expectation was that they’d write back and say “thanks for letting us know” and maybe they’d send me a coupon.

But no.

I did get that email, which explained that the grainy bits were protein something-or-others, and the writer asked if I could tell them what I paid for the sour cream so they could reimburse me.  They also mentioned that they taste-test every batch of sour cream before it gets packaged and shipped.  Overall it was a very nicely penned note, and I was satisfied.

I wrote back to tell them that I didn’t know what I paid, and a coupon would be fine if they had one, and I envied them their taste-testers job.

Then about a week later I received a big, bulky enveloped from none other than the Nancy’s yogurt company.  In it was not one but three coupons, and a beautiful canvas shopping bag, AND a HAND-WRITTEN NOTE from Elaine Kesey, owner of Nancy’s yogurt herself, thanking me for my support.  The postage alone for that package far exceeded what I paid for that grainy-but-otherwise-edible sour cream in the first place!

As a small-biz owner I’m confronted daily with one of the hard facts of business life: expenses.  Customer service is just one of many, and happens to be one expense that (unlike rent, payroll, taxes, etc.) we are not beholden to pay just to stay in business, or at best we pay “in-kind”: we reimburse our dissatisfied customer with just what that customer paid.

But the problem is that we can’t put a dollar amount on dissatisfaction.  Nancy’s yogurt demonstrated exactly what I hope Lunchsense will always offer: a genuine, heartfelt, personal response to every customer.

Please, let me know how your experience with Lunchsense turns out.

Lunches My Kids Will Actually Eat
Oct 13th, 2010 by Chris

tuna-pitaEvery once in a while, we here at Lunchsense like to do, yeah, you guessed it—lunch.  Many adults hurry through, or dismiss it altogether; but, for our children, this noontime meal remains a treasured respite from the rigors of reading, writing and ‘rithmetic.

Most will tell you they really look forward to it.  Visit your school’s cafeteria sometime—you’ll likely be greeted by a swirling jangle of sliding, metal chair-legs, eager, chirping voices and a heart-quickening buzz of unleashed energy.  You’ll also find a ton of wasted food.  This is often the result of over-packing, but it’s just as frequently caused by fickle tastes or “bor-ing” options.

Many kids love lunch-time, but the food—not so much.  “Come on, Dad—ham and cheese again?”

In an effort to make sure my kids are properly refueled for their afternoon lessons, I try to mix-up the menu a little bit, and I enlist their help in deciding what’s sure to get eaten.  Here are a few of their (somewhat) surprising favorites:

  • Hummus, cheddar and fresh spinach wrap.  I didn’t discover hummus until I was in my early 30’s, and now it’s one of my favorite snacks.  My kids love it in wraps and with tortilla chips.  It’s a solid source of dietary fiber, folate and some essential minerals.  It’s also very low in cholesterol.  The nutritional value will increase significantly if you find a good recipe and make your own rather than purchasing the pre-made kind.  Be sure to read the label if you opt for store-bought.  I use whole-grain wraps, of course; and ever since I showed my sons some old Popeye cartoons, they’ve found spinach (fresh, not canned) more appealing.
  • I call it a “Yunch.”  It’s simply a cup of low-fat yogurt, granola and some mixed berries.  What’s not to like?  Works great for quick breakfasts too.  Protein, vitamin B-12 and riboflavin are among the vital nutrients found in yogurt.  Try to use “plain” and be careful of sugar content when selecting a brand-name.  The berries (one of the world’s healthiest foods) and maybe a smidge of honey should make it plenty sweet.
  • Tuna salad pita pocket.  This traditional standard gets the job done.  Some kids have an aversion to it (probably the smell of a freshly opened can), but my boys really enjoy my own special recipe.  I go light on the celery and add a couple of tablespoons of sweet pickle relish.  I use fresh chopped greens and a whole-grain pita when assembling.  There are healthier choices, but white albacore tuna is another great source of protein that is low in saturated fat.  It also packs a nice B-6/B-12 punch with a decent niacin kicker.  You should use your mayonnaise cautiously to limit the damage, and don’t add any salt.
  • Tofu pâté.  If you haven’t tried it, your kids probably haven’t either, and you’re all missing out.  Tofu, while nutritious, gets a bad rap from the meat-eaters of the world; and truthfully, it is a poor facsimile of meat (Tofurkey?!?), but the pâté tastes really good.  I buy the packaged, “Toby’s Mild Jalapeno” variety because they introduced me to the stuff.  It’s like a combination dip/spread that can be scooped up with tortilla chips, or spooned into pitas and wraps.  It also works great with a bagel, instead of cream cheese.  My sons gobble it up however it’s served.  The tofu itself is mostly flavorless, adhering to the spices used in preparation.  I’d recommend sampling some different combinations.  It may not taste anything like meat, but if used properly, tofu can offer an excellent, alternative protein.
  • “Ants on a log” and an apple.  I’m talking about celery sticks smeared with peanut butter and dotted with raisins (or craisins), of course.  It’s healthy, simple and fun—what could be better?  Unassuming celery does its nutritional job with plenty of dietary fiber, vitamins A, C, K, folate, potassium and some manganese for good measure.  The apple and raisins provide another vitamin boost and additional carbohydrates.  The peanut butter is the protein, but check the sugar and sodium contents; and utilize portion control to limit the unavoidable intake of fat.  Note also that if your kiddos take peanut butter in their lunches, they should steer towards the “peanut” tables in the cafeteria, and wash their hands thoroughly afterwards.

It’s easy to take a less involved approach to your kids’ lunches.  The creative energy isn’t always there, and neither is the time.  But, letting younglings fend entirely for themselves in the lunch-room can be nutritionally dangerous, and it misses a great opportunity to model healthier living.  They really need the midday nourishment, so put your heads together—find out what they like, teach them what’s good for them, and make sure their lunches are about more than just socializing.  The quicker you can get your kids eating right, the sooner they’ll start developing healthy habits that will last their whole (long) lives.  And, that’s just using your Lunchsense.

Lost in the Supermarket
Oct 6th, 2010 by Chris
Photo by Flickr user Lyzadanger.

Photo by Flickr user Lyzadanger.

The line of glaring shoppers gathering behind me has nearly snaked its way back to the meat department.  “No, I’m going to be late,” one of them relays via her cell-phone, “I got behind some idiot at the grocery store again.”  My items are beginning to form a small mound near the cashier because I can’t keep the conveyor moving fast enough as I struggle to bag the haul.  I realize I left an envelope of carefully clipped coupons somewhere behind me, probably near the paper products or maybe in the cereal aisle.  The beads of sweat forming on my scalp and streaking down my face are starting to fall on my groceries in audible “plops.”  The total is coming and I don’t have my bank-card ready.  I’m shuffling through the multi-colored plastic plates when I discover—I’m missing one—the one with the money—“$163.85, please”—and I’m without a single cash cent.  I look to my children for a sympathetic smile, or some indication of a greater good, and I notice only one of them is in visible range and he is choking down an unauthorized grab from the candy rack.

Grocery shopping sure ain’t for sissies, and until recently it was a task handled mainly by the super-moms of the world.  I don’t mean to suggest that men can’t buy groceries.  I realize there are millions of single guys out there, and at least half of them have moved out of their parents’ houses and now have places of their own.  But, generally speaking, outside of a few professional cooks I know, grocery shopping isn’t very highly regarded (or appreciated) among the dudes.  To underestimate the effectiveness of a well-honed shopper’s acumen is a fatal mistake however, that can lead to vein-popping stress-tests like the one described above.  As the traditional roles of “husbands” and “wives” become less defined by gender, more men are being pushed into unfamiliar territories (like “produce”), and it is advisable to get your game-face on.  Don’t be alarmed.  I’ve been there, and in my ongoing effort to discover my inner “House-Husband,” I’ve found some essential practices that are sure to ease the strain.

  • Treat it like a job.  Become the House Manager for your family and attack the assignment as if you were getting paid for it.  Make it a challenge.  See how much money you can save the family by kicking butt on aisle nine.  If you manage to save just $25 a month, you’ll have $300 by the end of the year, and then you can dust off your golf spikes and stroll confidently to the first tee knowing you’ve actually earned it.
  • Before you start your list, make a plan.  Every shopping expert says the same thing—“start with a list.”  This is a no-brainer, but men often forget to consider the end-product (a meal) when they shop.  A list comprised solely of individual items is a recipe for waste, money consuming return-trips and numerous pizza bail-outs.  If you want to shop like a real pro, you’ve got to start with a menu plan.  I know.  It sounds so Martha Stewart, but a menu plan is essential to any effective grocery list.  You don’t have to become a chef or anything.  I only plan dinners, and I try to have between six and eight before I write my list.  Think entre, veggie, and a side.  Maybe a couple of casserole dishes.  The internet is a limitless resource for recipes, and I’d recommend investing in a cook-book or two (with color photos) for inspiration.
  • Clean out your fridge.   Most guys tend to enter the ice-box with blinders on.  Their determination to quickly locate and acquire the one item they need (“cold beer”), conveniently permits them to disregard everything else.  Without a loving wife/mom, or conscientious House Manager on hand, a guy’s fridge can get out of hand in a hurry.  You should always clean your refrigerator before you go to the store.  It’ll help determine what you need, you’ll discover what’s not getting eaten, and it should clear some space for the new arrivals.
  • Consider cash only.  If you only take cash, you’re more likely to stay within your budget, and you get the immediate satisfaction of actually holding any excess loot you save.  Just don’t forget to bank it.
  • Timing is everything.  Don’t underestimate proper timing when planning a grocery run.  Avoid shopping on weekends, if at all possible, or during rush-hour, after work.  Crowds are stress-breeders that can undermine the savviest of shoppers.  It is never a good idea to “squeeze in” a shopping trip.  Only go when you have enough time and are focused on doing a thorough job.  Return-trips wreak havoc on budgets.  Don’t go when you’re tired (or hungry, duh), and shop by yourself, if you can.  On top of eliminating possible distractions, research suggests we spend less when shopping alone.
  • Choose your store(s) carefully.  Guys often go for the fancy ones with the free samples, awesome beer/wine selection and a café attached.  I like to hit one of these occasionally too, for the excellent deli meats, fine butcher and appealing selection of organically grown produce; but a can of beans is a can of beans.  You will save hundreds on all the basics like toilet paper, condiments, frozen foods, cereal, canned goods, etc., if you make use of a warehouse-style, bag-your-own store.  You can still explore specialty options like farmer’s or fisherman’s markets, but don’t overpay for a tube of toothpaste.
  • Learn how to read (a label).  Listen up gents—you may not care if your own waist-size has decided to race your age to 50, but if you are the primary food buyer for your family, you really need to give health and nutrition some consideration.  This can get tricky.  Food Inc. isn’t going to help you here.  They don’t want you to know exactly what you’re eating, because if you did, you might not buy it.  They will try to divert your attention from important nutritional info like “calories per serving” or sugar content with flashy terms like “low fat.”  The truth is—you could get fat eating “low fat” foods.  “Calories per serving” is a much better gauge when dieting.  Look for “whole” foods or grains for the highest nutritional content, and try to avoid things that are “processed,” or “prepared.”  Deciphering the terminology of modern food labels is the key to making intelligent, health-conscious choices.
  • Find the “real” price.  When comparison shopping, between stores or particularly between brands, always note the per item/serving cost.  Sometimes food companies get slippery with sizes or items per container and what initially looks like a good deal is actually a rip-off.
  • Be practical with produce.  Yes, you want to stock up on a colorful range of fresh fruit and veggies; but remember—it can spoil, if left unused.  Rely on your menu plan and only purchase fresh items you’re going to use.  Learn which items spoil quickest, so you’re sure to use them first.  Hearts of romaine, for instance, generally stay fresh longer than other leafy greens, so this is a good staple.  Pay attention to ripeness when making your selections.  Don’t overlook frozen fruit and vegetables.  The taste and texture isn’t that much different than fresh, and they work great in casseroles (veggies) and smoothies (fruit).
  • Organize your cart.  If you use a bag-your-own store, don’t just haphazardly toss your items into your shopping cart.  You will benefit later by situating most cans and boxes (bottom of the bag items) so they can be placed on the conveyor first when you check out.
  • Double check the checker.  Try to keep an eye on the register’s display as items are being totaled.   Sometimes scanners hiccup or incorrect codes are entered and you end up paying caviar prices for a can of chicken noodle.  This can be challenging while bagging your own, so give your receipt a quick perusal before you leave the store, paying particular attention to any high-cost items.

More and more men are starting to shoulder their way up and down the aisles of our supermarkets, and their inexperience causes them to underestimate the complexity of the job.  This often leads to a mismanaged household and worse still, reinforces a guy’s apprehension about doing it.  Do yourself a favor, get serious and get good.  Successful grocery shopping is an exercise in proper planning and refined technique.  Everyone develops their own routine and there are countless effective strategies.  I’ve only included basic practices aimed at assisting the novice shopper.  With a little preparation, anyone can determine a personalized approach that meets their family’s needs.  Most guys will puff-up at the slightest sign of an accomplishment, so roll-up those sleeves, unleash the “guns,” and show June Cleaver who’s the boss of the bulk bins.

Lunchsense always appreciates your comments and suggestions.  Don’t be shy.

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