Before any major holiday, I see a slew of ads in my email inbox that tout certain foods as being must-have additions to the celebratory table. It’s usually fairly run of the mill fare: special menus at local restaurants, deals on appliances and kitchen tools. The headline “For the Zero Calorie Mom: Sparking Ice Beverages” struck me as a bit odd. I’d be wary of subliminally suggesting that Mom needs to cut the calories on any day of the year, but do you absolutely have to say it on Mother’s Day? I dug some more into how food companies are positioning their products for this time of year, and some of my findings were, well, unconventional.
The prefab foods camp was by far the most entertaining. Their angle: give Mom the gift of not working in the kitchen. In and of itself, this is a brilliant idea. Freschetta created a standalone website to market their gourmet frozen pizzas as ideal fare, going so far as to create a video of moms waxing rhapsodic about the joys of being a parent before going on about how all they really want is a frozen pizza. There is nothing wrong with frozen pizza, but if I were a mom, I would have a much more developed sense of culinary entitlement and would demand a little more. I later went to Schwan’s website—Freschetta’s parent company—and typed in “Mother’s Day” to see what would pop up. The results included things like microwave brownies and sausage patties. The product description pages in no way promoted these things as Mother’s Day foods, so why they appeared before me is a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a pizza-flavored snack roll, which was also among the search results.
Hormel—the company that brings us SPAM and Vienna sausages—points to open-faced foods as perfect fare, such as toast with cream cheese and fruit. They also suggest sprinkling cheese on a tortilla and spelling out “MOM” in pre-sliced pepperoni. Is edible Mother’s Day branding necessary for people to know that the meal set before them is a sign of love and appreciation? Would a scattershot arrangement of pepperoni—as one might see on, say, a frozen pizza—seem disingenuous? Or maybe I’m too jaded to get excited by luncheon meat typography.
Pop Tarts takes the cake by offering the opportunity to personalize your toaster pastry packaging with your own images and text. It’s too magnificently kitsch for me to rib. Unfortunately, you had to place orders by May 7 to get your personalized Pop Tarts by the 13th, but it seems that this promotion is available year-round and is certainly suitable for a number of occasions.
And what of liquor? This can be a sensitive subject, since presenting Mother’s Day as a reason to drink does perhaps smack of poor taste. Surely this most sacred of relationships could never induce alcoholism in parent and/or child. In Connecticut, the holiday is held dear to the point that liquor restrictions explicitly state that Mother’s Day cannot be referenced in any way, shape or form in advertising. (Father’s Day is apparently fair game, which makes one wonder about about our culture’s opinion of the paterfamilias.) Pennsylvania law, on the other hand, has no such restrictions, and in 2010 the state’s liquor control board mounted an ad campaign promoting wine and vodka as celebration enhancers, going so far as to suggest mixing a Mother’s Kiss—equal parts strawberry kiwi vodka and lemonade. “So many flavors for only $9.99 each,” the radio ads ran. “That is a $4.00 savings. With deals like this you can afford to treat all the mothers in your life this year.” There was some backlash, with the Independent State Store Union calling for the replacement of the liquor board’s director of marketing and merchandising.
Will you be going traditional brunch route this Sunday when you fete the women who hold your family together or will you be venturing into quirkier culinary territory? Tell us about your meal plans in the comments section below—and don’t forget to call your mother.