Friday, April 3, 2015

Pride, Prejudice, and Snacks

A new type of convenience store is moving into the break room.
On the right is Adam the Avanti Market representative.

  Last year I gave up one minute chess for Lent. This year I gave up snacks. For the last five weeks at home I’ve resisted the temptation to grab a handful of peanuts out of a nearby canister, chips or cookies out of the cupboard, or ice cream from the refrigerator. Instead I’ve grabbed healthy snacks like carrots, celery, cheese, strawberries. or my beagle’s favorite pinot grigio infused dry salami from the Aldi grocery store.

  Work was more of a challenge since downtown Des Moines where I work has no handy supply of carrots, celery, berries, or even pinot grigio infused dry salami. What is handy in the office building I work in is a popcorn machine and vending machines in the break room. I’d been a frequent customer of the vending machine in months past, grabbing an 85 cent bag of potato chips of crunchy Cheetos whenever I felt the need for a snack or a distraction. In order to combat my vending machine habit I packed 6 pieces of fruit along with my bologna sandwich every day before I left for work at 7. I’d have the sandwich at 9 and a piece of fruit each hour starting at noon until I went home at five. It was hard getting used to only having my sandwich in the morning but once I did it became easy and I now weigh less than I have at any time this century.

  The company I work for is owned by another company that owns two or three more companies. The parent company has decided to consolidate all the companies it owns. It is in the process of ‘rebranding’ into one new company name and next week we are moving to a new building on the west side of West Des Moines. This is going to make my 50 mile commute a 60 mile commute which would be a bad thing except I’m going to work from home three days a week so my 500 miles of weekly driving is going to become 240 miles instead of 600 miles.

All sorts of snacks, food, and beverages for the taking but not a Cheetos Puff in sight...

  The building I work in will still be occupied for a few months at least. On Monday when I went to the break room to get a glass of ice to go along with my AMP Focus Energy drink the vending machines were gone and in their place were racks of snacks and coolers of sandwiches, sodas, and energy drinks. Instead of vending machines our company is going to have self-service convenience stores run by Avanti Markets where the employees will scan the items they want and pay for them using an Avanti Market card pre-paid debit card.

  On Tuesday, the representative from the Avanti convenience store company was going to be in the building to give out debit cards. In order to get people to start using the debit cards the company decided to use the 'free taste' technique I’ve seen employed by most of the successful drug dealers I’ve encountered and loaded the initial debit card with five dollars. I ambled down to the break room on Tuesday and met Adam the Avanti representative.

  Adam showed me the heart of the Avanti Market system which is a small kiosk computer that looks very much like an ATM. There was much more of a selection than could fit into vending machines but everything was so out in the open a transplanted New Jerseyan like me couldn’t imagine people not just walking off with whatever they wanted so I asked Adam how much shrinkage (In case you didn’t know shrinkage is a polite word for theft!) they encountered at their markets. I was very surprised when Adam said that there was less than one percent shrinkage.

  The Avanti Market touts itself as a way for employees to eat healthier food but I’d have to say the snacks were mostly candy and chips. There was some beef jerky and fiber bar type of stuff and the only reason there were more healthy snacks than the vending machine was because there were more unhealthy snacks – the ratio was about the same.

No beef sticks but there is beef jerky (if the price is right).

  Adam noticed me taking pictures of the food items and scanning them and then taking pictures of the prices and then cancelling the transactions and putting the items back. He told me that the prices were higher than the convenience store and lower than the grocery store. Candy bars cost 94, chips 90 cents, Mrs. Freshley’s baked goods $1.29, and soda $1.39. Avanti Markets is a Pepsi affiliated company and I was delighted to see some AMP energy drinks but disappointed that there was no AMP Focus Energy drinks in the cooler. I asked Adam and he had never heard of AMP Focus Energy but he was very agreeable and said he would stock some if I would buy them. I said no thanks. The AMP drinks were $2.29 at the Avanti markets but 3 for $5 at the Jiffy in Marshalltown and I probably wouldn’t get even one a month for $2.29.

  There was a cooler with sandwiches and I decided to check them out. The priciest items were $4.49 for a giant sandwich or salad. The lowest price was $1.50 for twin chili dogs. I mentioned to Adam that I was happy to see twin chili dogs were still around and that when I was a factory worker over half a lifetime ago the twin chili dogs were the most popular vending item since two people could pool their spare change and each get a chili dog. Adam was as agreeable as ever and said that the twin chili dogs were a favorite in industrial settings but salads and small sandwiches do better in offices.

A large sandwich selection including the timeless Twin Chili Dogs!

  I also noticed that even though there were 30 or 40 different kinds of chips and bagged snacks there were no Cheetos Puffs – just Crunchy and Baked Cheetos. I’d always assumed Puffs weren’t used in vending machines because they would get crushed in the vending slots but there was no reason not to have them here. I asked Adam and he mentioned that this was a smaller store and the store at the new building was much bigger and would certainly have Cheetos Puffs. Once I heard that I decided to put my $5 card in my pocket and wait until we move and Lent is over and get some free Cheetos Puffs.

The secret to Avanti Markets low shrinkage rate revealed!

  At this point one of the human resource people came into the break room and I then realized why there was less than 1% shrinkage from the Avanti Markets. I had feelings of cultural inferiority with the thought that maybe Iowans are just more honest than New Jerseyans. I've never believed that. I think people from Iowa smile more than people from New Jersey but you best watch your wallet in either place. Nonetheless, the newfound information that less than one in a hundred Iowans were helping themselves to free food was starting to make me rethink my assumptions when the human resources person put up a sign asking me to smile because I was being filmed. I looked around and saw that there were indeed two cameras trained on all the Avanti Market's merchandise. I was happy to see the cameras and not have to rethink my prejudices about people from Iowa and New Jersey after all. I also made a mental note to keep a ski mask in my desk in case I ever got hungry with no money in my debit card…

  After last weeks 2-2 record in picking NBA games I have $290 in mythical winnings to show for my 15-11 mark (4-0 on the money line and 11-11 against the spread). With only two weeks to go in the regular season picks become more challenging as winning takes a back seat to keeping players healthy for all but a handful of teams. It is a difficult task to divine which bad teams will close the season with a sudden burst of pride or contract fever and which playoff teams won't mail in the last two weeks of the season. I will stick to my strategy of cherry picking home favorites against bad teams using the lines as listed on the Yahoo Sports page for entertainment purposes only.

Detroit Pistons at Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have played much better since getting Jimmy Butler back from his injured elbow while the Pistons have fallen out of the Eastern Conference playoff race. I think this is just the type of meaningless game that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau will give extended minutes to his top players. I expect the Bulls to cover the 9 points and win a $100 wager.

Denver Nuggets at San Antonio Spurs
After firing coach Brian Shaw, the Nuggets went on a tear with six wins in eight games. Having proved the coach was the problem all along, the team has proceeded to lose six of eight including an embarrassing home loss to the 76ers. Meanwhile the Spurs have won five in a row by 10 or more points. I'll pick the Spurs to cover the 12 and a half point spread and pick up $100 when they do.

Portland Trailblazers at the Los Angeles Lakers
No team has a bigger incentive to lose their remaining games than the Lakers who have traded next years #1 draft pick but will keep it if the pick is in the top 5. The Lakers are currently the fourth worst team with a two game 'lead' on the Orlando Magic. If the Lakers drop to #5 they are just one ping pong ball away from a team jumping them in the draft lottery and costing them their draft pick. I think the Trailblazers will be fired up after losing a large lead against the Clippers on Wednesday and clobber the Lakers so I'll give the 10 points on a $100 bet.

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