Monday, January 18, 2016

Fear of the New

Starting new things is hard, and it can be scary. Whether it's a diet, an exercise program, a new school, a new job, or a new year, fear of the new and unknown is a completely natural response.

But what if that natural reticence is so overwhelming that it becomes a problem? Well, there's a word for that: neophobia.

You knew I was going to do that, right?

You may have seen the ABC News report a few years back on a little girl who was so opposed to trying new foods she would not deviate from her standard fare of french toast and pancakes. Now, as any parent knows, there's nothing ground-breaking about having a kid who's a picky eater. In this girl's case, however, she had such a fear of different foods, probably caused by stomach problems she'd experienced as a baby, that her doctors labeled it "food neophobia." The report follows the girl and her family as they seek help from a therapist to help her lead a more normal life.

Neophobia can also affect businesses and the marketplace. There, it's known as "disruptive innovation."

This could also be called "why we can't have nice things." Business, it seems, is a bit allergic to innovation, no matter how much you will hear that word tossed around. Sure, any business likes to offer new products before the competition can, just as long as it's not too new, or causes them to have to change much (or spend much) in their already established way of doing business. 

Tom Fishburne, marketer and award-winning cartoonist, explains it nicely:

For myself, my neophobic moment came a few years ago, and its name was ALDI.

I had been told it was a bargain food market, but that logo certainly looked like a paint store. Or maybe hardware. But food?

Come on, Photoshop! Let's give 'em a hand!

Not perfect, but at least looks more like food!

Anyway, I had never even heard of ALDI before, obviously. But I'm usually up for new things--or so I thought. 

First off, you have to deposit a quarter to use a shopping cart. That was new, alright. A small, gas station-like food mart, but stocked like a regular grocery store, sort of, greeted me, beyond the shopping cart lock-up. I felt like maybe I was hallucinating, because none of the brands were anything I recognized, and yet, somehow familiar …

The whole appearance of the store--bare walls and cement floor, lack of muzak, narrow aisles, and limited choices on the shelves made me feel like maybe this whole thing was a clearing house for surplus grocery supply. Still, the prices were terribly low, so I chose some items and headed for check out. There, the new new information was that a) my items would not be bagged and b) if I wanted to bag them myself I would HAVE TO BUY A BAG or use an emptied cardboard box. The feeling of irritation was becoming immense (it had been a long time since I had been so challenged by a grocery store) but the coup de grĂ¢ce came when I faced the checker, who told me that I couldn't use my bank card as "credit"--they only accepted debit or cash transactions. 

That was it, I was out.

First world problems? Definitely. A little too much "new" all at once? Absolutely. However, I had plenty of other options so I figured ALDI would just be a blip in my grocery store tail lights.

Flash forward three or so years. A few months ago, they put one in less than a mile from me, making it one of the closest grocery stores around. Hm. Was I going to have give up my anti-ALDI prejudice after all? I started reading about the store, taking into account that perhaps it was my lack of preparation that had lead to my less-than-satisfactory experience. I discovered that ALDI is a German-based company that also owns Trader Joe's. Interesting--I had often been to Trader Joe's and liked it. I kept reading.

It turns out, the things that had so put me off were the very things that attracted others. Enthusiastic consumer bloggers were writing that the small size, and lack of selection were actually selling points to them. That ALDI was a "boutique" experience, less Big Box American and more grab-a-bagette-on-my-way-home European. I had to admit, my usual grocery store offers a head-spinning array of choices that can make a person in hurry (me) long for the no-choice-but-one selection of ALDI. Another thing I learned was that the baggage issue, as well as the cash/debit-only tactic, weren't there just to throw a monkey wrench--they were cost saving measures, and, with a little pre-planning, easily dealt with. And the quarter shopping cart deposit? Is so you'll have an incentive to return your cart yourself, and they don't have to pay someone to do that--again, keeping costs down.

I was also impressed by the way ALDI treats it's workers. 

Pay starts at well above minimum wage, and all employees receive full benefits--dental and vision care as well as medical, 401(k) retirement plans, vacation time and paid holidays. Also, the cashiers are allowed to sit while they check you out. That, in my opinion, is pretty awesome.

Needless, to say, I realized I needed to put aside both my fear of the unknown AND the known, and give this ALDI paint store food market another try. I'm glad I did, because its prices are incredibly low compared to my regular market, even on the organic offerings, which they have quite a lot of. Also, everything I've bought there has been really tasty, despite its weird-looking knock-off packaging. Can I do all my shopping at Aldi's? No, more's the pity. They only carry one flavor of herbal tea--'nuff said! And the experience is a lot closer to Soviet Russia than baguette-grabbing Euro boutique. Example: once they run out of something, it's GONE. A while back, they ran a special on this great chicken apple sausage, and I happily bought it every week. 

A side note: this sausage was part of their "Never Any!" line, which includes products made without any antibiotics, preservatives or artificial flavors. These delicious chicken apple sausages contained: chicken, dried apples, water, honey, salt, spices, and parsley, period. No nitrates, no carrageenan, no long chemical concoctions or three different ways of saying "sugar." I've noticed this to be the case with many of their items, even things that aren't under the "Never Any!" banner.

Now, back to our story: I did notice that the packages disappeared as I bought them, and were not replaced. Then the day came when there were no more, and something else had appeared in its place. Dasvidanya, Comrade.

However, for great prices on staples, like cooking and baking needs, bread and meat, pre-made salads and fruits and veggies, as well as my own peculiarities: almond milk or lactose-free milk, ALDI, not a paint store, is a nice addition to the neighborhood.

What are you afraid of?

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