This week we depart from our usual format of reviewing three new products to think about the 4,000 products we've reviewed for this column in the past 25 years.
We're saying, "Enough! It's time to push away from the table." Yes, we're ending Supermarket Sampler.
Ironically, we have an unsuccessful new product to thank for our start.
Carolyn: It was New Coke. Coke had changed its formulation and people were going crazy! I was reading all these news stories about whether New Coke tasted better than old, but there were no experts to answer that question. My years of eating processed food led me to believe I could be that person. Since I had no formal food training or background, I took the idea to my registered dietitian/food writer friend, Bonnie.
Bonnie: With her love of Spam and Chips Ahoy! cookies, and mine of shopping the store's perimeter and cooking from scratch, I couldn't imagine writing a column together unless we each had our own voice. We fought over that -- and have been fighting ever since.
Carolyn: I actually prefer Keebler Chips Deluxe.
Bonnie: See what I mean? After much arguing -- I mean, discussion -- we decided to spend these final two columns sharing some of what we've learned and reviewing some highs and lows of our 25 years of writing Supermarket Sampler.
Carolyn: The most important thing I've learned is that you don't have to finish the product you're reviewing if it's fat-free cheese. If you're testing a new line of Sara Lee frozen desserts, you do.
Bonnie: I learned that food manufacturers can turn the latest trend into a supermarket product faster than you can microwave popcorn.
Carolyn: I also learned pretty early on that microwaveable cakes are not something God intended.
Bonnie: When we started, I had a headache after each day of testing processed foods, as my body wasn't used to the chemical additives. Sadly, I learned that the body adapts and the headaches lessened!
I also learned that there are some new foods so bad-tasting that neither teenage boys nor their dog would bite.
Carolyn: I feel proud to be among the first to try and champion -- in a way, discover -- chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, canned Italian wedding soup and water bottle powdered-drink sticks.
Bonnie: One highlight was a letter I received from a woman after reading our M&M review back in the days before allergens were required on packaging, in which I mentioned that original M&Ms may contain peanuts. This woman's daughter had a severe peanut allergy; she wrote that I had probably saved her life!
Carolyn: This may not be quite as dramatic, but a reader once told me that my warning that a boxed meal kit's package directions failed to mention all the ingredients you needed to buy to make it saved her from having to make an extra trip to the supermarket.
Bonnie: And remember how the late Jeno Paulucci increased portion sizes of his Michelina's frozen dinners after we complained about the skimpy portions?
Carolyn: Versus just sticking more pins in the Bonnie and Carolyn voodoo dolls, as per the then-standard U.S. food industry practice, may he rest in peace.
Bonnie: There have been a lot of changes in the food industry since we started writing our column. We witnessed the birth of the Nutrition Facts panel, making product comparison easier.
We saw the introduction of aseptic packaging, 100-calorie portion packs, boxed meal kits, prepared produce, dashboard dining, the upscaling of everything, and food manufacturers spreading a brand name throughout a supermarket.
We've seen Americans embrace their ethnic roots with Greek pita breakfast sandwiches, Indian frozen dinners, Thai simmer sauces and Hispanic baby food. And we witnessed salsa overtake ketchup as American's most-used condiment.
Carolyn: When we started, Dove and Haagen-Dazs ice cream bars were all the rage. Now Skinny Cow diet desserts are the hottest thing in the freezer. And people wonder why I want to quit?
Bonnie: In fact, the most significant trend in the food industry since 1987 has been America's increasing concern about health and nutrition and increasing interest in cooking. Scientific research resulted in waves of new products containing oat bran, omega-3's, calcium and/or antioxidants, and others stripped of cholesterol, high-fructose corn syrup, tropical oils, trans fats or gluten.
Some products stuck -- organic is mainstream and whole grains are everywhere -- while low-carb foods are buried in the new product graveyard.
Carolyn: It all just goes to show the wisdom of my philosophy, "This health concern too shall pass." But Stouffer's frozen dinners and Pepperidge Farm cookies remain, thank goodness!
Bonnie: Health trends were behind the most misguided new products during our tenure. Some doozies included Pride O' the Farm Toasted Oat Bran Shake, Ben & Jerry's Carb Karma, Pringles Multigrain and -- the worst -- Doritos Max with Olestra, which gave folks a chance to play roulette with their intestinal tracts.
And then there are those that defied nutrition or any other kind of logic, like Hubba Bubba bubble gum-flavored soda, Don Enrique dehydrated salsa, Heinz blue-colored Funky Fries, quasi-military self-heating Heater Meals and Mistic Jumpin' Gems watermelon-strawberry-flavored liquid with floating gelatin "gems."
Carolyn: I actually think the imagination and daring behind those products not unlike what was required to produce the light bulb and the Salk vaccine. I admire it.
What I really hated were new products that required cooking, especially things I had to figure out what to do with. "Convenience" produce like Frieda's fresh rosemary on branches. I stuck it in a chicken, the stick caught fire in my oven, the fire alarm went off -- I don't think it got a good review from me.
Bonnie: In the next and last installment of our farewell column next week, we'll accentuate the positive, discussing the new products that have actually found a permanent place on our shopping lists -- and that you might consider adding to yours.
Bonnie Tandy Leblang is a registered dietitian and professional speaker. She has a blog (www.bi teofthebest.com) about products she recommends; follow her on Twitter: @BonnieBOTB. Carolyn Wyman is a junk-food fa natic and author of "The Great Philly Cheesesteak Book" (Running Press).