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Editorial: A rising tide of choices

Editorial: A rising tide of choices

Some choice is OK, but marketers have gone overboard

One of the nice things about living in a free country is the right to choose — to live where you want, read what you want, buy what you want, etc. You only have to decide, and while the task can sometimes be daunting, it shouldn’t be that way for every little decision in life. But when there are more than two dozen options among just a single brand of laundry detergent, you begin to wonder whether the consumer’s demand for choice has gone a bit too far.

For example, with Procter & Gamble’s Tide (the leading brand in America) it’s no longer enough to just decide between liquid or powder — nowhere near enough. With either style, you then have to choose between “traditional” and “high efficiency,” the latter being for some new type of washer on the market (in yet another choice for consumers to make).

“Traditional” Tide liquid comes in no fewer than 11 different varieties, each with some different scent or additive such as “bleach alternative,” “stainscrubbers,” fabric softener, or combination thereof. And even the new “high efficiency” line comes in eight different varieties.

While it seems unlikely that any store — even the modern-day, “super” supermarkets — could have room for all these varieties, even the half-dozen or so they do carry seems like too many. It has made the experience of shopping for a laundry detergent one that takes far longer than it used to, far longer than it should.

Much the same can be said for any number of supermarket staples — from breakfast cereals like Special K, which now comes in a mind-numbing number of forms and flavors; to ice cream (do you want regular, light, low-fat or frozen yogurt?); to soda, where there is not only regular or diet to choose from in every flavor, but sweetener choices to make (cane sugar vs. high-fructose corn syrup; and aspartame vs. saccharin vs. sucralose vs. stevia). Is it any wonder that supermarkets are being built as big as airplane hangars? Is it any wonder that going grocery shopping has become such a headache? Here’s some advice: Don’t look for relief in the aspirin aisle.

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