Five Things I Have Learned This Week #9

A Happy Meal Design

1 — John Bitove is possible the most commercially successful designer in the world. He’s a Canadian businessman by day, but back in 1993, he founded Toronto’s then nameless NBA franchise. In trying to work out how to sell a basketball team to a city obsessed with Ice Hockey, he discarded the middle-aged male market and concentrated on women and children.

Looking for a name, he ran a mail-in competition with a local newspaper. His favourite from the list of entries was the T-Rex, but his eight year-old son (who had just watched Jurassic Park) suggested The Raptors. He took the name to the league’s then head of design Tom O’Grady and told him to “Make it the Happy Meal of jerseys”. If you can hook a generation of eight year olds on your team, you probably have them for life. Turns out that works for sports teams just as much as it does for hamburgers.

O’Grady came up with the now infamous purple dinosaur shirt featuring pin stripes that looked like they had been slashed on, a snarling raptor with claws bursting out of his shoes and the team name in an angular font. “We could have just written the word Raptors in 32 point Helvetica, but what’s the point?” O’Grady has opined since. Ironically, that is how the team’s jersey looked when they won the NBA Champtionship for the first time in 2019, a plain shirt with the word Raptors written across the chest. But the fans in 2019 were the eight year old kids who, back in 1993, bought the purple dinosaur shirts and were hooked for life.

Sadly, much as I love the concept of the Happy Meal Design, it definitely is not something you can you use for a booze brand.

2 — Chocolates, perhaps, are exempt from this rule though. KitKat, a famously British invention, has taken on a whole new life in Japan. Rather than stick with the biscuit and milk chocolate classic, with occasional special editions like Orange, Japan has had over 300 KitKat flavours down the years. Tourists leaving Narita Airport are obliged to stock up on Macha Tea or Wasabi varieties for their colleagues back home. And now, you can buy Barrel Aged Whisky KitKats, made with cocao nibs aged in Islay whisky casks.

3 — We’re still dealing with the logistical issues of Boris’s Brexit deal. Whilst groupage seems to have got moving again, we’re still stuck with the UK’s bonkers out of date customs system: CHIEF. Some forms can only be submitted into CHIEF on paper. I can’t even imagine how this works.

HMRC, to its credit, has run many webinars on customs arrangements and the impression I left with was to sign up to CHIEF and begin making entries. Scotland Food & Drink, our trade body, has also run some webinars and on one — an export expert chuckled slightly at the thought, telling me “under no circumstances should you ever try and do something with CHIEF directly”. It’s so antiquated, he explained, that you need specialist (and expensive) software just to manage the entries. Not to mention a pen. And some stamps.

I managed to sign up to the Customs Declarations System, one part of HMRC necessary to get access to some VAT forms I now need. HMRC sent me a nice email saying: “If your software is compatible, you can now make customs declarations to CDS. Check with your software provider or in-house IT team.” I am the in-house IT team.

4 — Tim Hayward is one of the finest food writers working today, and has managed to explain my love of tasteless American lager much better than I ever could. To recap — lager has taken a real kicking over the years (1982), but I never quite worked out why.

If I wanted a dark, taste-explosion of an IPA, I will order one. But if it’s a hot day and you’ve been exercising, and Hobgoblin asks me: “What’s the matter Lager-boy, afraid you might taste something?”, the answer is — yes! I want cold, fizzy chemicals in a cold glass served regularly for several hours. Or as Tim puts it: “when the temperature outside was in the nineties, the humidity damn near 100 per cent and you’d spent eight hours cleaning shrimp in a room without air conditioning, a can of budweiser grabbed from the fridge, and ideally drunk in the shower, restored the will to live”

5 — The French have excellent food, and also dodgy food. But I’ve discovered that if your boulanger has the “Boulanger de France” logo on the door, it means the bread is actually made on the premises.

Co-Founder of the Port of Leith Distillery