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Farmer's Union Iced Coffee: A Thesis

FUICEI (“Foochi”) Algorithm

The Expiry Date is the most important data that can be gathered about a carton of Farmer's Union Iced Coffee — the optimum drinking date. Purchasing an Iced Coffee involves a quick set of very simple mental calculations to determine the Farmer's Union Iced Coffee Expiry Index (FUICEI). This is calculated as follows:

Today's Date − Expiry Date

For example, if today is 14th September, an Iced Coffee with an Expiry Date of 26th September has a FUICEI of 12.

The possible ranges of the FUICEI are:

15This is nothing less than the Holy Grail of Iced Coffee. This is a carton of Iced Coffee of unequalled perkiness. I think I have experienced only a single '15' in my life. Perfection.
14, 1314s and 13s are the best an Iced Coffee appreciator can hope for on a daily basis, and even 14s are not common. They are most prevalent during the summer months, as the turnover is higher, but can be found during winter and autumn also. But it has to be said that 14s and 13s represent the very highest quality Iced Coffee. Finding a 14 or 13 always brings a thrill of pleasure.
12, 1112s and 11s tend to be the average available, especially during spring. But their ubiquitousness should not be regarded as a minus. 12s and, to a lesser extent, 11s, are the median product, and represent good, honest, quality Iced Coffee. In particular, the presence of a small number of 11s in the deli fridge is usually a sign of 13s or 14s on the way so that's something to look forward to for tomorrow.
1010s represent Iced Coffees past their best, but still perfectly serviceable. Finding a 10 will give the Iced Coffee appreciator pause for thought, mostly along the lines of whether there might be another establishment close by with 11s or 12s. It is also worthwhile hunting around the back for something newer. But if circumstances seem to be saying that 10 is the best you're going to get, there's certainly nothing wrong with it.
9We are now down to the lower end of the acceptable scale. A 9 would almost certainly cause the Iced Coffee appreciator to look for another supplier unless the situation was grim, say, if you were in the outer metropolitan area on a longish road trip for a few hours and no chance of doing better. So a 9 is definitely a case of settling for a less than ideal outcome. A 9 is a reminder to plan ahead better.
8We are now leaving the acceptable end of the scale. An 8 in a metropolitan establishment is a huge disappointment, and can be indicator of current or future financial disaster. Just as unemployment and inflation rates are metrics for the health of an economy, so too can Iced Coffees be an indicator of the success or failure of a purveyor of foodstuffs. A deli or service station in what should be a high-volume metropolitan area with a pathetic clutch of five or six 8s lurking in the back of the refridgerator in January is on a fast-track to financial ruin. An 8 is the last on the scale before you don't bother, and even then the temperature of the refridgerator is going to play a role in the decision.
7The unacceptable end of the scale. There are few circumstances where a 7 would even make one weigh up the pros and cons. It's just an instant “no”.
6 and underIf you find yourself either so desperate for an Iced Coffee you'll accept a 6 or so clueless you can't tell the difference, perhaps you need to reappraise your lifestyle. How did you end up in a situation where a 6 was your only choice?

Where To Buy

  • Petrol Stations. Far and away the best places to buy Iced Coffees, especially the newer ones where half of it is a supermarket and the 2L bottles of Coke are $5. They always have a high turnover, ensuring fresh supplies, and new, powerful refridgerators where you half expect to find a perfectly preserved cro-magnon man next to the Seven-Up. These places very frequently have some great deals, such as 2 600ml cartons and usually sell cheaply anyway. (Not that money is a consideration.)

    But not all are created equal. The old-style petrol stations, ie. the ones that sell petrol and do mechanical repairs (as if there's any margin in that) and grudgingly sell a few soft drinks will also have some Iced Coffees. But they run their fridges too warm to save power costs, and the turnover is not great. So sometimes you can get lucky in these places but generally it's 7 or 8 territory.

  • Supermarkets. These can be a paradox. Intuitively you might expect supermarkets, especially the nice, shiny new Coles/Woolworths types to have a constant supply of ice-cold 13s but it's something of a crapshoot. The problem is that you can't buy one item from a supermarket in less than the 10 minutes it takes to get through the checkouts so it's not usually the place to go for the lunchtime Iced Coffee, and thus their market is predominantly the indiscriminating casual drinker who purchases the 1L cartons to last for a week. Compounding the problem is that they don't order 20 cartons at once, they order 100 cartons at once, so they've got a lot more to get through before reordering. So sometimes you can achieve 12s and 13s but there's also a lot of 10s and 11s about.

  • McDonald's. McDonald's are branching out from burgers and soft drinks, so, in South Australia at least, they have a small fridge with fruit juices and Iced Coffees. They are usually in the 10-11 range, which is disappointing given the volume you would expect in a McDonald's outlet. They suffer from the fact that people don't go to McDonald's for Iced Coffee and they're probably not that keen to place too many small orders to keep the stock fresh. I've never seen anyone with an Iced Coffee in McDonald's. But Iced Coffee has been available for some time so presumably the experiment has ended and this is now a part of the landscape.

  • Subway. Likewise Subway offer Iced Coffee but without a real commitment to it, so they frequently languish in the 9-10 range. You're better off going to the service station next door than buying in Subway.

  • Location. Distance from Mile End is, in conjunction with the above, an equally critical variable. For example, Café de Vilis always has a huge, perpetual supply of 13s and 14s primarily because National Foods is in gobbing distance. The FUICEI available in the remainder of the metropolitan tends to diminish as you move outwards. So regretfully, even in these days of high-speed broadband connections, our outer metropolitan and rural & regional comrades are not being well served. It is interesting to reflect that neither major political party has policies to address this, instead preferring to chuck money around on roads, health and telecommunications.

When To Buy

As already intimated, the seasons play an important role in the FUICEI. During the winter months, Iced Coffee consumption is lower, so the volumes moving through the channels are lower and the average FUICEI tends to be lower. But it's not quite that simple.

Summer can be a big problem. While consumption should be high, and stocks fresh, there's a two-week window over Christmas where stock either runs out or goes old while the shops are closed. So you've got Christmas Day, Boxing Day then a weekend, then New Year's Day. It can take until the second week of January before stocks are reliably back in 12-13 territory.

Generally, delis and shops that are not open on weekends tend to have relatively poor FUICEIs on Monday and Tuesday because they still have the stock from the previous Friday, and of course immediately you slip down 3 points on the scale. So even a great supply of 13s on Friday afternoon is languishing in 10 territory by Monday morning. Also, these establishments will not tend to reorder for delivery on Monday because they already know that on Monday they need to get rid of the stuff from last week. The cleverer vendors will run their stocks down at the end of the week and take fresh supplies on Monday. This also is a conundrum because while you'll get the best possible Iced Coffee early in the new week, you could miss out on Friday after lunch.

How To Buy

Purveyors of milk products are in constant, mortal combat with consumers regarding expiry dates. The newer stock goes to the back, and the expiry dates are faced away from the consumer. In the petrol stations with supermarkets this is the natural state of affairs because the refridgerators are stocked from the back. But everyone else has to stock from the front, and so it's a major exercise for them to put the new stuff at the back.

The moral of the story is that very frequently the best Iced Coffees are at the back of the fridge. You might be able to improve the FUICEI by 2 or 3 by simply making the effort.

Many fridges are designed so the shelves are only slightly taller than the product, so there isn't an abundance of space to fish around pulling things from the back. But it's actually quite simple to lift an Iced Coffee carton, tilt it and pull it out on its side. It isn't necessary to embark on a major excavation to get to the back.

Of course, some vendors aren't anywhere near clever enough to bring their older stock forward, and this is both a blessing and a curse. It's handy because on the same row might be some 9s and 12s side by side, expiry dates pointing forward, and of course this is any easy choice. But it also means that everyone else gets the same easy choice so you might find a vendor where all the product is extremely old simply because they've been too dumb to cycle their products better. Their stock might be down to 7s or 8s whereas if they knew what they were doing the median might be 10 or 11. So like most things, you can benefit or be scuppered by this behaviour.

What to Buy

Iced Coffee is Iced Coffee, but then there is how it arrives. The optimal package is the 600ml carton: good value, just the right quantity and not too heavy. The 350ml cartons (upgraded from 300ml cartons a few years ago) are more expensive per ml and simply don't have enough Iced Coffee in them!

So what about the upper end of the scale: the 1L carton or 2L bottle? Intuitively you might think this is where an Iced Coffee enthusiast lives, but I disagree. The 1L carton is too heavy and hard to hold, and back when some of us had vehicles with seemingly purpose-built dashboards to slot our Iced Coffee cartons in, their high centre of gravity made them prone to topple. And of course the 2L bottles are just being silly.

This brings us to the topic of the plastic bottles. Controversial when released, they now occupy a strange netherworld, apparently too popular to discontinue but far from an optimal experience. There are a number of problems with the plastic bottle. One is that they are less popular than the cartons, so immediately their FUICEI is 3-4 behind. But there are technical problems also: the lip around the top is sharp and uncomfortable to drink from, and it tends to collect run-off, so you can end up with a sort of slimey residue. Not recommended.

Things To Drink If There's No Iced Coffee

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© National Foods© M. Cadzow 1994

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