Archives for 2012

Over the Top – CVS’s Maybelline Lipstick Price

At first I thought the $9.99 price for Maybelline Colorsensational Lipstick at CVS was a mistake. I hadn’t bought that lipstick in a coon’s age or two, so I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the price take a bit of a jump, but not THAT high of a jump. When I found out the cost was indeed correct, it added to my growing sense that CVS’s prices have steadily been rising a lot more steeply than other discount stores.

Sure enough, a few days later I hit my local Rite Aid and the price for that exact same Maybelline Colorsensational Lipstick was $7.19. That’s 39% cheaper. Which meant CVS was making $2.80 above and BEYOND a normal mark-up. And they were making that off ME. And I would be losing $2.80, the price of a nice juicy melon or box of berries, every time I would be dumb enough to pay that higher price for a tube of lip color.

The story doesn’t end there. When I double-checked the oline lipstick prices at CVS, the price listed for that Maybelline lipstick suddenly turned out to be $8.79 – over a dollar cheaper than their in-store price.  It’s true some stores charge lower prices online than in-store but I couldn’t help wondering if that cheaper CVS online figure wasn’t conjured up more for the benefit of the Maybelline folks,who might not be exactly delighted with the exorbitant markup CVS was actually pulling in for their product.

It’s interesting though, that Rite Aid’s price for that Maybelline lipstick both online and in-store was the same $7.19. Which I think is always less confusing for customers.

If you’re wondering how CVS can get away with charging 39% more for a product than Rite Aid and why customers simply don’t desert them for the cheaper store, the answer may lie with their real estate. CVS stores are everywhere in New York and their locations are always prime spots near subway stops. The two nearest me are only blocks away, both on Lexington in the eighties, giving them a wide radius of buyers in every direction. Whereas the nearest Rite Aid is a bit of a hike much farther east. It’s a more out of the way location and  too much of a hike for customers pressed for time or unwilling to traipse those extra blocks.

Needless to say, it’s now my lipstick refill stop and, pending further research in price differential, my discount store for who knows how many more items.

Foods Containing Beaver Anal Glands: Don’t Ask!

A while back I wrote about the presence of hair, beetles and beaver anal glands in the foods we eat. Of the three, beaver anal glands, a whiffy combo of glands and urine that beavers use to mark their territory, captured by far the biggest share of people’s attention. Since then numerous search queries have hit my blog seeking a list of specific foods containing these glands, which are ground up into a product known as castoreum used in raspberry, strawberry and, most often, in vanilla flavoring.

As it happens no up to date consumer list of specific foods containing castoreum exists anywhere. Why? Well to start out, would you buy a food product if you knew it contained beaver anal glands? These glands are not exactly anyone’s idea of a heavenly nosh. Anticipating this, the food industry managed to get castoreum added to foods under that innocuous, legal and sometimes not so innocent label: “natural flavoring”. So even if castoreum IS present in foods and beverages like ice cream, yogurt and soda, you and I will never know it. Nor will any food manufacture divulge this info if you contact them(why nix sales?). They will inform you that THEY never add castoreum to their foods and beverages. If pressed, they will probably add they can’t of course speak for their vendors, who supply them with flavorings containing ingredients that are proprietary information.

After Jamie Oliver, a British chef with a large following, appeared on the David Letterman Show last year and mentioned that vanilla ice cream was made with castoreum, the Vegetarian Resource Group (VRG) contacted 5 manufactures of vanilla flavoring to ask if there was any truth to this statement. All five manufacturers said no, that castoreum is not used today in any form of vanilla for human use.

On the other hand, Fenaroli’s handbook of flavor ingredients (a $340 industry eBook) published in 2005, provides a list of reported foods and beverages containing castoreum extract:

Reported Uses PPM (parts per million) (Fema* 1994):

Food CategoryUsualMax
Alcoholic Beverages79.5993.69
Baked Goods62.2868.47
Gelatins, Puddings43.5847.34
Soft Candy37.2844.10
Frozen Dairy24.3926.26
Nonalcoholic Beverages24.2129.77
Hard Candy24.1724.17
Chewing Gum18.6042.09

So what are we to believe? Are beaver anal glands still being used to flavor foods and beverages or not? And If so, how much and which foods? How about it, Food Industry?

*Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association