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Mullins: Hot Pockets a study in human complexity

Tribune staff
Published: July 21, 2013 Updated: July 21, 2013 at 10:19 AM
Nestle is orchestrating a re-branding of the Hot Pocket pastry meal. This leads us to consider the complexity of human extremes.

Tracking consumer trends as I do, hardly a day goes by without an example of how wonderfully complex we humans are when it comes to spending money. On one hand, we're perfectly rational economic agents who behave just how the Econ 101 charts say we should. Other days, we spend extra money for organic milk on the way home from a Botox treatment.To clarify the point, organic milk lacks trace amounts of pesticides, and Botox injects a paralyzing biotoxin directly into the skin.And so, today's example of human complexity is this: The Hot Pocket.The hysterical Jim Gaffigan turbocharged his comedy career via a YouTube clip of his Hot Pocket monologue, wherein he observes that the pastry-wrapped munchie "full of nasty meat" is best consumed either drunk or on the way back to the trailer park. Eat a Hot Pocket too soon after microwaving, he notes, and everything will taste like rubber for a week.So, it's rebranding to the rescue. The Hot Pocket is getting a makeover, with new graphics, new advertising and new, well, ingredients. Angus beef, hickory ham, more buttery pastry wrappers and (get this) "real cheese."Here's the human complexity part: On one hand, Americans buy bazillions of Hot Pockets a week, yet the hottest trend in food is ultra-organic, ultra-small batch, ultra-authentic and farm-to-table foods.The same people who pack restaurants such as Boca and The Refinery for farm-to-table gourmet also feel an illicit thrill at the rebirth of the Twinkie. I know a chef in Tampa who buys all Greenwise organic items from Publix to eat at home, yet smokes cigarettes, which may be the world's most effective way to cut years off your life.On one hand, we use hand sanitizer by the gallon, but backyard eggs are among the hottest items at farmers markets (the dirtiest ones sell best, one vendor confided to me). "Slow food" is a bona fide trend, but so is ultra-portable and single-serve food. Walk any grocery store aisle and you'll see individually wrapped slices of frozen cheesecake, Nutella on the Go cracker packs and dozens of kinds of 100-calorie packs because apparently we need to outsource our cracker counting.The ultra-digital Pebble watch company can't keep up with orders for its Bluetooth smartwatch that connects with iPhone and Android phones, yet companies that make hand-wound mechanical watches are also seeing their sales skyrocket. (I love my iPad, but also love my new watch with transparent face to see the gears go tick-tock, tick-tock.)This all makes sense when we remember that going in the extreme on one end of our lives only amplifies the longing for the opposite. Who hasn't grown frustrated about a balky Wi-Fi connection and on the same day wondered, "Can't I just unplug from the world for a while?"So, I say, go ahead and celebrate your complexity. Grab that organic kale juice on your way to buy a cronut. It's what makes us fascinating. American Girl a mustWhile traveling in Ohio recently, I visited the Center of the Known Universe, as far as certain young girls are concerned: the American Girl store in Columbus. The site opened a month ago, and if anyone is wondering who has a license to print money besides the Federal Reserve, it's the American Girl company.A zombie-like riot of girls and their moms and their grandmothers packed the store, elbow-to-elbow, buying up everything in sight. Hundred-dollar dolls, $60 outfits and $20 salon appointments where experts style a doll's hair.The crowning glory is the cafe, where girls can have tea with their dolls and parents. There's a monthlong waiting list. As for the menu, you'll never pay more dearly for a cheese pizza, but there are also adorable micro ice cream cone samplers.All this comes at a price. One poor dad who reserved the birthday banquet room for 12 girls received a fraud alert text message from his bank essentially asking, "Holy cow! Did somebody steal your wallet!?" Poor guy had to call the bank to authorize the transaction.The line at the cash registers was 20 minutes long. But for avid fans in Tampa, there's good news. A store recently opened in Miami. I suggest calling ahead for reservations - months ahead.State helps Shapes membersShapes gym members, you may be in for a rough ride, but you have state law on your side - somewhat. Developers have all but announced plans to knock down the gym on Swann Avenue and replace it with a Trader Joe's. So far, we're hearing from members of the women's gym that they're being pushed to switch to the Calta's gym on Gandy Boulevard that's not a women's-only gym. As one TBO reader wrote us: "They are mistreating their customers and not giving them options now that Trader Joe's will be taking over."Shapes officials tell me Calta's is making big changes to accommodate Shapes members, including a remodel with women-focused workout gear, and they're adding classes led by Shapes instructors.Here's where state law comes in. Gyms don't have a good reputation with memberships, and thus they're regulated by the state. State rules allow members to cancel their contracts if a gym goes out of business or moves more than five miles away, unless the gym designates "a facility of equal quality" within five miles at no additional cost.So for any member feeling mistreated, go to or you can call 1-800-HELP-FLA (435-7352).Food mag comingMagazines are dead, right? Um, maybe not. The cooking and recipe website is being turned into a print magazine, on paper and everything. The Meredith Corp., which produces Parents, Better Homes and Gardens and Family Circle, will print the title six times a year. Scoff if you will, digerati of the world, but Meredith paid $175 million for the website last year and tested the print version by pairing it with other magazines. The result, the company says: 400,000 paid [email protected](813) 259-7919Twitter: @DailyDeadline