Friday, October 10, 2008

Perplexing pepper peculiarities

Weisenheimer has been on the road a lot lately. Since starting this goofy blog in August I've been to such exotic locales as Portland, Eugene, Salem, Vancouver, B.C., Boise, Tri-Cities, Yakima, Ellensburg, Blaine, Ashland, Spokane, and, next up, Chelan. This travel has meant a lot of meals in restaurants, and those meals have solidified in my mind a fact that, as my sweetie will attest, I've been griping about in private for some time now: the people who make pepper and the people who make pepper shakers have never spoken to each other.

You don't really even need to travel to test this. Find a pepper shaker in your house. Put some pepper in it. Shake. What happens? Usually, nothing. I've got one like this. I've been thinking about taking it downstairs to the workbench and drilling bigger holes. But I don't think I should have to do that. (Another thing my sweetie will tell you I always say is, "People should have to use their own products before being allowed to sell them to the public." Stuff should work before you dupe me into buying it.)

The next time you're in a restaurant, having breakfast, try putting some pepper on your hash browns. Good luck. The holes in the shaker are not big enough to let the ground pepper out. Sometimes, if you shake long enough, you can break a bit of the ground pepper into even smaller bits and a little of it will escape. This problem is compounded by the fact that, in many restaurants, the person who is in charge of refilling the shakers packs it in so tight that when you shake the pepper it doesn't move anyway. You only have to fill it up once! The salt people don't seem to have this problem. You can almost always get salt out of the shaker. Pepper is another story.

Let's communicate, people!
I'm offering to serve as the go-between between pepper providers and the shaker makers. I don't know a whit about either business, but I don't need to. Like a diplomat, I just have to get the two sides to the table and shake up the status quo. Get them talking. I imagine the conversation might go something like this:

WSW: Mr. Pepper, why don't you grind up your pepper a little finer so that it can get out of the holes in the shakers?

PEP: Well, at present we grind the pepper into chunks 12.7 microns square. To grind it to, say, 10 microns would add several minutes to each batch at an additional cost of 1.3 cents per hundred pounds of pepper. Our margin is tiny. We couldn't afford that. Out competitors, who grind their pepper into even larger bits, would undercut us. It would be a better solution for the shaker folks to make the holes bigger.

WSW: What about that, Mr. Shaker? Can you make the holes in the shakers a bit bigger?

SHAK: Our plant is outfitted with 147,348 drill bits that each drill a hole 11 microns in diameter. It would cost us tens of millions of dollars to replace all of those with 13 micron bits. Our research shows that a shaker top with 11-micron holes arranged in offset polygon shapes gives the most efficient distribution of the shaken material is has an elegant, pleasing design.

As you can see, these issues are difficult, but not insurmountable. I'm hoping that, by 2015, we can have available to actual consumers pepper shakers that will actually distribute pepper. Imagine having such a thing on every dining table, public and private, all across America and, indeed, the world. Otherwise, shaker makers and pepper providers, we'll all just go to grinding our own.

Call me.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

Damn! Here's to personal pepper shakers!!!