ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Weekend Frivolity: Of Muffins and Market Failure

Bran muffinIf you follow the blog's Twitter feed, you already know that I love bran muffins.  I think I got addicted in college or perhaps in grad school.  In any case, it was in the 80s.  As far as I can recall, I believe I could confidently walk into any coffee shop throughout the 90s and into the aughts, order coffee and a bran muffin and settle in for a satisfying mid-afternoon snack, lupper, or linner. 

Life was good.  Bran muffins were something I could just assume would be a constant in my life, like Cheerios, or Yoplait yogurt, or French Roast coffee.  Sure, sometimes the cafe would be out of bran muffins, but they felt bad about that, and it only signified that I was not alone in my love of bran muffins.

And then, somehow, imperceptibly, the world shifted.  I had a child, I got a real job, and I stopped having time to frequent cafes.  In the meantime, people's taste seems to have moved away from bran muffins.  Now, when I see muffins on display that seem to fit the description of the wanted suspect, they almost always turn out to be something slightly off -- like banana nut muffins -- or highly objectionable -- like chocolate chip muffins.  I'm sorry, if you want whatever that is, you don't want a muffin, and your cupcake masquerading as a muffin is squeezing out shelf space that ought to be occupied by the object of my affection.

OatbranmuffinsWhat has happened here?  First, I think there has been a generational shift.  My generation (I'm a boomer) grew up on Euell Gibbons telling us to eat healthy cereals like Grape Nuts, and we associate foods made from bran with digestive regularity and general well-being.  Along came GenX, who had never been exposed to Euell Gibbons' homespun charm, and they think a blueberry muffin every bit as beneficial as a bran muffin.  Slowly, demand declined, and shops catering to the younger folks stopped stocking bran muffins and started ordering desserts that look like muffins instead.  And now it is near impossible to find them in a grocery store.  When I do find them, they are likely to be too moist and too sweet, because people now think that a muffin is a pastry.  

BagaelAside: there really no reason for bakeries to offer varieties of bagels other than plain, poppy seed, sesame, and everything.  What of onion? you say.  Well, a bialy can be quite nice, but the amount of onion (and garlic and salt) on an everything bagel is perfectly adequate.  A bagel that features only onion or garlic or salt is like a sit-com that features a secondary character from a successful sit-com.  Remember the Mindy show, featuring Mindy from Mork and Mindy?  Of course you don't; that's a terrible idea!  The George Costanza hour?  No thank you.  Joey?  We know where that went.  (But I do recommend Episodes!) Yes, I concede that cinnamon-raisin bagels have their place, but their place is with a smear of cream cheese.  Any other topping is likely an error, and ordinary consumers just can't be trusted with such consequential matters.  Moreover, cinnamon-raisin bagels are the slippery slope that leads to war crimes such as blueberry bagels, asiago cheese bagels, and the bagel-shaped bread you can buy at Panera.

Here's the thing.  I never ate bran muffins with an eye to my health.  I eat them because they are delicious and just the right kind of filling.  That's why when bran muffins show up in my house, the only evidence thereof that you will see will be empty wrappers.

I suspect I am not alone.  There is an untapped market of bran muffin eaters who hunger for the comfort of the company of a familiar but now estranged companion.

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