By Tim Hayes

In the late 1970s, things were pretty rough.  Double-digit inflation, mortgage rates at 18% or higher, long lines where you could only buy gasoline on odd-numbered dates if your license plate ended in an odd number, and vice versa.

From the perspective of a 51-year-old father of three today, it’s remarkable and downright admirable how people made it during those bleak economic times, but as a high school student back then, the pains of a dicey economy pretty much rolled off my back.

That was, however, until the night we were first served Kroger-Pro.

My Mom shopped at Kroger’s supermarket, the store nearest to our house.  The Kroger chain used to have a strong presence in western Pennsylvania until a contract dispute with its employees caused the firm to completely pull up stakes and abandon this market.  No one’s seen a Kroger’s around here for decades.

As a result, I have no idea whether they still sell Kroger-Pro anymore.  I sure hope not.  Because that stuff was nasty.  Allow me to explain.

My siblings and I were dyed-in-the-wool carnivores.  I know I certainly remain one today.  Our Mom made wonderful meals.  Great Italian dishes of spaghetti with meat sauce, fantastic meatballs, delicious.  She still does.

One evening we sat down to enjoy another happy helping of pasta with meat sauce.  We dug in, forks eagerly twirling the noodles against big soup spoons, the lip-smacking ground beef doing its job and literally beefing up the meal.  We opened our eager mouths, popped the felicitous forkfuls in, began chewing, taste buds anticipating the traditional dance of delectability…but then the party of the palate came to an abrupt, jarring, mind-blowing halt.

Something was wrong.  Very wrong.  Calamitously wrong.  Did Mom forget how to cook?  What is up with this weird meat sauce?  We charter members of the Mount Oliver Carnivores Club demanded answers!

She made a cursory sweep of her eyes around the table and knew the jig was up.

“It’s Kroger-Pro!” she said, mustering all of the pride and dignity the moment deserved.  “What the heck is Kroger-Pro?” we shot back.  “It’s just like ground meat,” Mom said.  “Yeah, but what IS it, Mom?  Where’s the REAL meat?”

Turned out that Kroger-Pro was a soy-based product.  Tofu before tofu was cool, you might say.  And a lot less expensive than ground beef in those days.

We finished the meal so as not to have any hurt feelings, but I don’t remember many nights featuring Kroger-Pro after that.  Mom knew she couldn’t blow that jive past us a second time.  The beefy expectations of a lifetime had been too successfully ingrained.  There was no going back.

I guess the thing I remember most about The Kroger-Pro Caper is the notion that sometimes you’re forced to make decisions that can be uncomfortable.  Everybody back in 1977 had to live as frugally as possible, our family included.  Kroger-Pro offered a more economic alternative to the real thing, so we gave it a shot.  In the end, it wasn’t the best alternative, so we made other fiscal corrections.

We’re in sort of the same economic boat today, all of us.  Here’s hoping the economy finds its footing again someday soon.  Until then, we may have to chew our way through some rough nights of Kroger-Pro.  Days of steak will come around again, though.  I refuse to believe otherwise.

Copyright 2012 Tim Hayes Consulting