Valerie Phillips: Supermarket Sampler column will be missed

Published: Tuesday, April 24 2012 6:04 p.m. MDT

Bonnie Tandy LeBlang, left, and Carolyn Wyman began their syndicated column in 1987. Bonnie Tandy LeBlang, left, and Carolyn Wyman began their syndicated column in 1987.

Universall Press Syndicate

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You might be wondering why this week's Food section doesn't carry a Supermarket Sampler column. Those who missed their last column on April 11 might not realize that the authors, Carolyn Wyman and Bonnie Tandy LeBlang, decided it was time to hang it up after 25 years.

Bonnie and I both attended the Pillsbury Bake-Off a few weeks ago, where she shared the news with me. I was disappointed.

The column was a part of the Standard-Examiner's Food section when I was its food editor, and when I became the Deseret News food editor I encouraged management to begin running it. With so many new food products coming to supermarkets, it's nice to have someone road test them for taste, nutrition and ease of preparation before spending your money on them. I enjoyed reading their bantering style, with Carolyn writing from the junk-food junkie's viewpoint, and Bonnie writing as a dietitian.

While it's true that many of the products they wrote about were highly processed, others were "real" food with innovative packaging, such as the first bagged salads.

"In some ways I'm sad, and in many ways I'm glad to change my routine after 25 years," said Bonnie, who is a registered dietitian. "I'm looking forward to turning off my full-size freezer that's been stuffed with highly processed foods waiting to be tested, and eating only real food again."

She said she's also looking forward to being able to take a trip without scurrying to write her weekly column ahead of time.

"In the quarter century that this column has been syndicated, we never missed our weekly deadline and never re-purposed old columns," she pointed out. "We did the writing through births, family deaths, divorce, surgeries, vacations, moves … life. It's time for a rest."

You can still read Bonnie's taste-testing on her blog, www.biteofthebest.com. She and her two sons write about food products that are less processed and more upscale, such as Coach Farm's Fresh Goat Cheese with Figs, Wild Planet Wild Albacore Tuna packed in extra-virgin olive oil and Kerrygold Cashel Blue cheese.

"My plans are to continue blogging with my culinary offspring about products that I actually like," she said.

Some people may recall that Carolyn Wyman has written biographies on Spam and Jell-O, as well as a history of processed food products, such as Twinkies, Velveeta and Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks, called "Better Than Homemade."

So what will she be doing now that she's not taste-testing food products each week?

"I'm working on a chocolate chip cookie book that will be out in spring 2013," she wrote to me. "Plus eating whatever I want."

The duo go started with the dust-up over New Coke.

It was April 1985, and newspapers were filled with stories about people who were upset about Coca-Cola's reformulated Coke.

Journalist and junk foodie Carolyn read the stories with interest, but also with disappointment. They all lacked an "impartial authority" on food products who could say definitively whether the new Coke tasted better than the old.

Maybe I could be that authority, she thought.

She approached Bonnie, a registered dietitian and food editor at the same newspaper where Carolyn worked as a feature writer, about writing a food review column together. At first, foie gras-lover Bonnie balked at the idea of writing a food column with someone whose favorite recipe contained Spam, baked beans and pineapple. So she suggested that they write in two voices.

And so the idea for Supermarket Sampler was born. It took awhile before they were picked up for syndication by Davy Associates. In September 1987, he sent out their review of Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream Bars, Sara Lee All-Butter Croissants and Uncle Ben's Rice Florentine to their first newspaper clients from coast to coast. In 1990, the larger Universal Press Syndicate picked up the column.

On Bonnie's Bite of the Best, she posted the 25 products she liked best in her 25 years of doing Supermarket Sampler. Listed in alphabetical order, they are:

1. A Taste of Thai Pad Thai Sauce

2. Birds Eye Steamfresh long grain brown rice and plain unadulterated vegetables sans sauce

3. Cabot's Private Stock, Cloth Cheddar…actually any Cabot Cheddar

4. Ocean Spray Craisins

5. Dr. Kracker Klassic

3 Seed Flatbread

6. Eagle Mills All Purpose Flour with Ultragrain

7. Earthbound Farm Organic Baby Arugula

8. Haagen-Dazs Five Mint Ice Cream

9. Island Way Sorbets in Natural Fruit Shells

10. Jarlsberg Original and Lite cheese

11. Kerrygold butter

12. Mary's Gone Crackers Original

13. McCann's Quick & Easy Steel Cut Oatmeal

14. McCormick Black Peppercorn and Sea Salt Grinders smoked paprika

15. Melissa's Ojai Pixie Tangerines, Peeled Baby Beets

16. Near East Original Plain Whole Grain Couscous

17. Pace Picante

18. Perrier or San Pellegrino bottled sparkling water

19. Pretzel Crisps Everything and Dark Chocolate & Peppermint

20. Sabra hummus

21. Saco Dried Buttermilk and Chocolate Chunks

22. Santa Cruz Dark Roasted Peanut Butter

23. Swanson Organic Chicken Broth

24. Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Brown Ready Rice

25. Wholly Guacamole fresherized guacamole

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Email: vphillips@desnews.com