Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Inventors Gone Wild: Krispy Kreme Donut Burger Trumps Texas-Size Cholesterol Catharsis  

Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought. - Albert von Szent-Gyorgyi

The Texas Rangers are playing great baseball, as of today, projected out to an 103-win season. That's an Alaska-sized pile 'o wins, but amazingly, the meme that munching Texas types this season is The Boomstick, a  24-inch hot dog with chili, cheese and jalapeños with an underlying slab of wood to carry the frelling thing. Unlike the team's front office & manager (relentlessly intelligent, elegantly designed to do the job), the Boomstick is the Anna Nicole Smith of comestibles, replacing pointless size and encapsulated self-destuctiveness in the name of "a good time". Still, it's actually not the scariest concession chatcka of the 21st century. That title belongs to...well, read this reprise and you'll know.

   Most inventions in baseball, in natural evolution, in life, in business, are failures. And that's okay, because inventors who fear failure fear invention, and that limits their effectiveness. To zero. Great inventions tend to be bold -- an essential element shared with the greatest belly-flops.
   Baseball though, as the U.S.' most evolved and highly sophisticated innovation-processing engine, has some good illustrations of the exxxtreme innovation as the managerial equivalent of spontaneous human combustion. This week's Invention Gone Wild: the fat bomb known as the Gateway Grizzlies' "Best Ball Park Hamburger". Hawkeyed Sean McNally at Baseball Think Factory pointed to an article on ESPN describing the concession offering for the East St. Louis Frontier League team. It's a concoction that blows away the scary 30 year reign of the Baltimore Memorial Stadium incumbent Baseball Concession Lord 'o Lard.
   I am going to tell you about the Grizzlies' extraordinary kulinary kookiness, but first a little about the de-throned incumbent. Memorial Stadium proffered the truly scary comestible...deep fried "burritos" A teammate of mine, Burly Betts, used to go the games with me and then would order & then actually eat one. A by-product was I couldn't go to the bathroom and give him my scorecard because it would get an Exxon Valdez-autograph-model grease slick on it that would render it write-proof, immune to both pencil and any kind of pen I had access to. Deep fried burritos were not just scary, but Edgar Allan Poe-scary, and something that would not be dislodged for the Chamber of Concession Horrors for decades to come.
   But now it has been usurped by the Grizzlies' Krakatoa O' Adiposity. According to the ESPN story:
Homer Simpson would love the newest taste sensation in minor league baseball: the donut burger.
   The Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League promised to create "Baseball's Best Burger" in time for the team's opener in late May. And they appear to have succeeded. The ballpark sandwich will include a hamburger topped with sharp cheddar cheese and two slices of bacon -- all between a "bun" made of a sliced Krispy Kreme Original Glazed donut. {SNIP}
   Calorie counters predict the monster will set you back about 1,000 calories and 45 grams of fat. {SNIP} (Grizzlies general manager Tony) Funderberg, who has said he has eaten at least 10 of the Grizzlies' new creations as part of a "sampling process," said the team hopes to sell 100 to 200 of them a night at $4.50 each. He calls it a bargain, considering it is a meal and a dessert in one.
   I'm not, as Dave Barry would say, making this up. For those of strong constitution, here's a pic.
LONG PERSONAL & ETHNOGRAPHIC ASIDE: I've never "gotten" the Krispy Kreme thing. I have always loved doughnuts, but the name of that brand alone scared the hell out of me -- the idea of eating anything called Kreme, something that seems assured to use as ingredients no actual food products but was probably intended for use as something like this, seems pretty sci-fi to me. ¿Worse, who wants their cream to be Krispy? What kow delivers krispy kreme? OTOH, back when I drove a Yellow Cab in the D.C. metro area, about the only Peacemaker a group of cabbies I worked with had was the local Krispy Kreme outlet. They were from all over (Biafra, Nigeria, Palestine, New Mexico, Pakistan, to name a few points of origin) and basically worked as zero-sum competitors even if they worked for the same company. Arguments would explode over lines and fares, politics, religion, the best way to get to the corner of N. Vermont St and N. Vermont St. -- yes a real corner guaranteed to fry the skulls of the poor sots who tried to ease the stress of the job by smoking reefer -- and whether the dispatchers were on the take. But one one unifying passion was the consumption of hot, fried fat, a comfort that soothed, and expanded, the savage breast of almost all hacks. The inescapable conclusion of 20th century cultural anthropology was that healthy societies survived by gathering and distributing protein; I guess there must now be a 21st century corollary: that other-than-healthy societies thrive by gathering and distributing fried fats.
   The Gateway Grizzlies play home games a mere 3½ miles from the Midwest's most pungent olfactory landmark, East St. Louis' Monsanto plant, normally a bad thing, but I'm thinking that in this context a positive -- they make (or used to, at least) make most of the aspirin used in the U.S. in that factory, and the grease-hangover headaches demand a gargantuan supply of analgesics.

BEYOND BASEBALL:   But the Grizzlies "Best Ballpark Burger" is as innovative as it is distasteful. It's originality factor is very high. It's a risky invention in that they aren't simply adding something you'd normally add, or tweaking one of the ingredients (remove catsup, add mustard, for example). It's bold, it's original...it's repulsive.
   In part, what makes it seem so repulsive is that it's a specific form of invention called an "intensification". Intensification is a primitive idea, an it can work. It's one of the simplest forms of invention, and it's easy to implement because it doesn't require creativity. Because of that non-requirement, it is the most common form of innovation. It just says "whatever we're doing that seems successful, let's just do more of it." So if customers think a two-blade razor shaves closer than a single blade, ¿why not three blades? And if you think your competitor will re-tool to make three-bladed shavers, preempt her by going to four blades. Automobiles' rear fins grew and got more ornate from 1957 (like this) to about 1962 (more complex like this) and even bigger through about 1964 and then stopped. Designers intensified what buyers wanted until the model failed and they were forced to invent a new look.
   This has worked both in the prepared and processed food industries over the last quarter century. Taken as a market, Americans love eating fat, and more is generally more popular. The percentage of American adult who are merely "overweight" by federal standards has been pretty consistent over the last 25 years, but every 12 years, an additional 9% of the adult population are building their bodies into a configuration defined as "obese" (that is, very overweight). If you are skeptical, take a look at this CDC chart that indicates two-thirds of American adults are overweight and three out of ten are obese.
   In general practice, intensification may make the product of invention more effective or not, but frequently consumers will feel like it did because it seems logical. If a ballpark cheeseburger satisfies because of its very high fat content, amplify the appeal point...throw on bacon (two slices please). And if the bacon cheeseburger maxes out the design possibilities for fat transmission, go straight for what ounce for ounce, is the third most potently concentrated source of fat I can think of: the glazed doughnut (a little under two ounces and roughly 12 grams of fat), not as scary as this one I ate this year.
   Inventors will go wild at times. The bolder the initiative, the greater risks they take and the greater likelihood of remarkable success they have. But when the kreme is krispy, the kuisine is kreepy and it can be either a kickstart to karmatic konsummation or a komplete klunker.

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