"What a wonder life I've had! I only wish I'd realized it sooner." Colette

Dec 22, 2012

More on Senior-Proof Packages

A couple of months ago, I wrote about my difficulty in opening a bottle of Ocean Spray juice.  I wound up using a serrated knife, scissors and a pair of pliers; it was 2am and I was crying by the time I got the cap unscrewed. (My hands suffered nerve damage, so in addition to difficulty twisting, I can’t seem to grasp items larger, or heavier, than a can of tomato sauce).

Ocean Spray, no doubt worried about a frivolous lawsuit, called and then followed up with an old fashioned letter and a couple of coupons for huge bottles; $5.99 max value each.  That was nice; I didn’t know companies did that anymore, but what I really hope is that they’ll change their packaging.  They promised to take a look.  I’m about to use the second coupon, but I doubt it'll be any easier because it hasn’t been long enough for a redesign to arrive on store shelves, and here’s why. (If you want to zip past the story, there are more Senior-Proof  examples at the end.)

In my former life, I worked for a Point of Purchase design and manufacturing firm in Manhattan as a Project Manager, so I’ve got a pretty good idea what might be going on.  First hurdle: my letter gets forwarded to its ultimate destination; a Salesperson is assigned and calls a meeting with someone from the Creative department, who never ceases to doodle; a college-degreed Assistant takes notes and acts as run-and-fetcher (that’s how I got my foot in the door).  The head of the company sticks his head in, offering encouragement.

Sales adores Creative’s new Eiffel Tower-bottle designs; she grabs the sketches, goes home and starts preparing her pitch, complete with French beret.  “Mon dieu!  What flavor!”

Client loves it, and Salesgal Sue bounces back to the office with a retainer, where she’s confronted with the head of Production, who remind her that just because you can draw the Eiffel Tower upside-down doesn’t mean you can build it that way.  What was that Creative guy thinking?  When are you guys gonna include us in your preliminary briefings? (Because they don’t want to hear, “Can’t be done.”)  I can’t tell you how many faces I’ve seen fall in 30 seconds.

His point made, the crusty old V.P. starts arranging meetings of his own, between Engineering, Purchasing and Manufacturing.  As a courtesy, Sales and Creative are invited to listen.  The head of the company sticks his head in, hoping for encouragement.

A vague completion date of 10-12 weeks (from signed Purchase Order, our ace in the hole) is promised; P.O.’s were never signed off by the client until a last, final, bottom line quotation to their liking was delivered. Estimating was part of my job, so usually before I even started writing P.O.’s to my suppliers, I’m peeved at Sales.  Dressed all in purple one day, I nick-name her Barney.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking.  The estimated 6-8 week production window is down to 3-4.  Once the client signed off, my whistle blew and I was responsible for everything until it shipped, all the while trying to keep Margie from Accounts Payable off my back.  I usually inherited the jobs where molding and fabrication was outsourced to Kansas, Wisconsin and the like, because none of the guys in Purchasing wanted to go.

At the time, I was the only woman in my department and try as I might, I just couldn’t beat up the vendors like my compadres.  New Yorkers are used to that kind of abuse; it’s water off a duck’s back.  But outside the tri-state area, yelling and screaming doesn’t go over too well.  So they’d send me.  They called me Dorothy, but I kept a whip in my office, a gift from Rita after one visit to her home in Texas.  I’d carry it to Engineering, singing,
“Some---day, my  (blue) prints will come.”  I lasted 7 years before Tino and I headed for Oregon.
Whoops, I did it again.  The point is that I didn't expect a change in Ocean Spray bottles to happen overnight, but next year is entirely possible.  I began collecting names of companies with packages with which I’m having difficulty:  Del Monte grapefruit slices (even peeling an orange is painful); Oscar Meyer cold cuts.
Yesterday I wrote to Nestles, informing them I was in danger of becoming a Maxwell House drinker, simply because of MH's new package.  Apparently I'm not the only one who gripes.  Advertised as, NEW!  Lightweight, EZ-Open (8 oz) jar, it absolutely is.  The plastic jar is the most lightweight yet substantial food container I’ve felt, and I worked with lots of plastics.  The lid is rubber, with grooves on the sides for fingers to grip, and it opened easily
Nestles sent a response within an hour; so quickly, in fact, I’d assumed it was an auto-response to sit tight.  They thanked me for taking the time to help them improve their products; my email would be forwarded; and a coupon was attached as well.
Now, it’s no skin off my nose if these companies continue their old practices; it’s cheaper to lose a few customers than redesign their packaging.  But if they’re smart like I hope they are, they’ll realize that the number of Grey Panthers is likely to increase (for those unfamiliar with this term, think Black Panthers; activists).  I sent my appreciation to Nestles, adding that since my own infirmity, I’ve noticed so many other Seniors having difficulty grocery shopping.  It must be the same as buying a new car; suddenly you see your model everywhere.

I also wrote to Oscar Meyer, whose Beef Bologna I can’t live without, but which I cannot open without a rubber grip and much strain.  To this day, I bite two eyes, nose and a mouth out of each individual slice I munch, accompanying myself between bites with their jingle, which I also suggested they bring back.  I actually sang the complete, “My Bologna has a first name…”, to a young cashier last month.  That’s it; I’m officially my Mother.  But just like Jiminy Cricket with En-cyclopedia, that old jingle is the only way I can remember how to correctly spell bologna.  Let's see if they write back.

PayPal actually changed a small detail in their payment policy after I pointed out the absurdity of it, adding the positive impact were it changed.  I won’t go into detail, but I’ve kept the correspondence and you can always write me if you’re interested.
So please, if you see a product which might seem difficult for seniors (and others) with disabilities, write to the manufacturer and tell them.
I suggest composing your thoughts in a separate document, in case, like me, you miss the fine print about limited characters.  After my lengthy prose was submitted, I received an error message and had to rewrite.
Or just tell me.  I can always use the coupons but remember, it'll help others, too.  I just wish they'd do away completely with those damn blister packs.  THOSE are dangerous.

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