T.W. Paterson: No more Dad’s Cookies? Say it isn’t so?

It was Henry Renz Sr. who really set the famous cookie on the road to international success.

Dad’s Original Scotch Oatmeal Cookies are a favourite of T.W. Paterson. 

Dad’s Original Scotch Oatmeal Cookies are a favourite of T.W. Paterson. (submitted)

By T.W. Paterson

It was St. Louis baker Henry Renz Sr. who really set the famous cookie on the road to international success.

It’s getting so that you can’t count on anything these days. OK, death and taxes. But everything else that matters seems to be in a constant state of push-pull, including two icons from my childhood and young adulthood.

When I was a kid growing up in Saanich there was a warehouse-style building on Quadra Street, near Kings Road in the Hillside area. A large sign identified it was the home of Dad’s cookies.

Now that’s the sort of thing that resonates with a child whose favourite cookie was Dad’s coconut (although I drifted to oatmeal with its crisper bite and almost toffee-like flavour). Anyway, in my childhood innocence I took that building to mean that Dad’s cookies was a local business, that they were baked right there in Victoria.

In fact, I went on thinking that for a long time until I finally learned it’s an international brand owned by an American company. And there matters rested until I read in a recent Times-Colonist report that its distributor has discontinued marketing Dad’s cookies in Canada.

The victim of changing times, changing tastes? No, the victim of tougher marketing strategies by Canada’s largest superstore chains which now push their own product lines at the expense of third-party name-brand products. Shelf space is extremely expensive and large scale grocery stores are, understandably, cost and competition driven to squeeze more profits out of the products they carry.

So, apparently, they also squeeze their suppliers (even those of the biggest corporations) to lower their prices to make them more attractive to consumers. Another factor is the ever greater amount of sales space being given over to fresh produce — and that the overall selection of products now offered to consumers has exploded by 600 per cent in recent years.

Whatever. According to columnist Sylvain Charlebois, one result is that Dad’s cookies are no longer sold in Canada. Now, over the years, I’ve encountered numerous imitations: cookies that look just like a Dad’s cookie but don’t taste like a Dad’s cookie. No one, to my knowledge, has matched let alone surpassed what was later trademarked as Dad’s Original Scotch Oatmeal Cookies after their arrival in California from Scotland around 1900.

It was St. Louis baker Henry Renz Sr. who really set the cookie on the road to international success. ‘Hank’ Renz Jr. carried the torch from 1949 on until ownership changed hands, although still in the family, in 1988. The company has since gone into making ‘gourmet popcorn’ but popcorn does not an oatmeal cookie make.

So I guess I, and a lot of other Canadians, will have to find alternative tasty treats. Damn.

My second story is that of the ongoing and worsening predicament of Sears Canada. Now, I’m not a fan of large corporations but I do have a soft spot for Sears. Firstly, it was one of the bedrock household suppliers favoured by my parents. In fact, in those days, everybody shopped at Sears; if not in a store, through their catalogues. No pre-Christmas was complete without us kids’ constant perusal of the Sears, Eaton’s, Woodwards’ and Hudson’s Bay Co. catalogues.

All of the major department stores offered great service and quality products but Sears was legendary for its lifetime-warrantied Craftsman hand tools.

Later, Sears enabled me on my road to adulthood by granting me my first credit card which I regard as a small but significant milestone of a lifetime. And I often used that card over the years but with gradually decreasing frequency. It’s not that I drifted away from the company, Sears drifted away from me. The catalogues became fewer and smaller with less selection (more household furnishings, clothing and lawnmowers, it seemed) and ordering from a store, then having to pick up the item after home delivery was discontinued, just became tedious. I just lost interest.

But, to back up, when I first went to work at the Colonist I found myself interviewing a retired high school teacher. Can’t remember his name now, or why, but I clearly recall how our conversation somehow drifted to Sears and his tale of the repeating wheelbarrows.

Note that I used plural — wheelbarrows as in multiples of same. His story was that he’d ordered a wheelbarrow and it had been duly delivered. But, a day or so later, came another blue truck to his driveway, another knock on the door — and another wheelbarrow. Not once but several times!

Now this, you realize, was in pre-computerized inventory days. Somehow the store had messed up his order and sent him not just his original but several bonus barrows.

I, being young and naive, asked him, hadn’t he reported the mistake to the store and returned the other wheelbarrows? No, he said, because he’d already paid for them. By this he meant that, every time he’d ever ordered anything from Sears over the years, a portion of his payment had gone to cover loss from damage, error and pilferage. In other words, he reasoned, he’d been paying for those ‘barrows all along and, finally, was getting his money back!

I didn’t ask him what he did with the other barrows or whether the store ever realized their mistake. But, with the ongoing financial problems that beset Sears I have to wonder how many other ‘wheelbarrows’ may have contributed to today’s financial malaise.