There are very few items on my shopping list that are indispensable. But of this I am sure: there is no susbstitute for a non-stick washing-up sponge. J-cloths, stringy things on sticks and those flat, dimply sponge squares just WILL NOT DO.
I have strong evidence that many people share my view. Nearly every time I try to buy some non-stick spongers, they are inexplicably out of stock. No matter which supermarket I choose, passing through the socio-economic spectrum from Lidl to Waitrose, there is generally a gaping hole in that part of the dishwashing supplies section. Piles of sticks and cloths on surrounding shelves taunt me with their abundance. Rough-edged scourers and Brillo pads mock me with their determination to remove the non-stick from my omelette pan at twenty paces. But non-stick sponges are there none.
What is the meaning of this chronic shortage? In these heady days of near-perfect stock-control, empowered by barcode-reading tills, how can all the supermarket chains get their supply of this item so consistently wrong?
It’s not as if non-stick sponges contain a rare or seasonal ingredient. They don’t require a long and complex manufacturing process. Nor is there an irregular, seasonal pattern of use to make stock control more difficult. Surely pretty much every kitchen sink sees a similar throughput of washing-up, week in, week out? My only recourse is to stockpile whenever I find them. I guard against a crisis by buying two or three twin-packs at a time.
I’m therefore irritated today to discover a failure in my own stock-control system. When I go to get a new one from the broom cupboard, there are none. I determine to buy a whole shelf load of sponges next time I can track them down.
And then it occurs to me why they’re so hard to find. There must be thousands of shoppers all over the country who share my approach. It’s the stockpiling that’s causing the shortage. The minute a shelf-filler replenishes a shelf, someone dashes up to sweep the lot into their trolley.
It’s like the great toilet roll crisis of 1973. Many people, like my friend’s mum, bought a car-load in a panic when they heard there was about to be a shortage. There wasn’t – before the stockpiling started. But then there was. (Sound familiar, Mr Cameron?) As an old school bursar used to say to me, shaking his head sadly, “There’s enough for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.”
The answer, then, is clear. All I need to do is propagate a rumour that there’s about to be a j-cloth shortage or a new hyper-absorbency tax on those weird dimpled flat sponge squares. Gullible shoppers everywhere will forsake the non-stick sponges in order to stockpile these alternatives. Leaving all the non-stick sponges for me. Hmm, I think I could clean up here. Once I’ve got a new sponge, that is.
If you enjoyed this post, you might also like this story about another shopping crisis: The Perils of the Supermarket or this one about – or indeed this one about another everyday household item: Give Me a Wetwipe and I Will Clean the World.