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Surfing for snacks

Craving something special from your old hometown? You probably can find it on the Net, but it may cost more than you expect.

By DAVE GUSSOW, Times Technology Editor

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 22, 2000


art
[Times art: Earl Towery]
Blue Bell ice cream costs $4.50 a half gallon for folks who can buy it in Texas stores. But for Texans who left the Longhorn State and long for a taste of home, the cool treat carries a heftier price tag: $97 for a gallon-and-a-half.

That works out to more than $32 for a half gallon, a Texas-size price by any measure, but it's one some people are willing to pay.

'We've sent it to almost every state that doesn't have Blue Bell," said Betsy Newman, who ships about six orders a week to places from Alaska and Hawaii to New York and Florida.

Customers can't place the orders for Blue Bell online; that's left to the phone. But the Web site provides the gateway for Texas transplants with a craving.

Florida is full of people who moved here from other places, and many miss the grocery and dining choices they enjoyed in their previous homes. No longer do these Florida transplants have to suffer by doing without. Now, they can head to the Web and, more often than not, find something they crave.

Armed with a shopping list of food and beverage items that co-workers said they couldn't find in the Tampa Bay area, Tech Times went shopping.

Searching the Internet doesn't have to be a mystery. In some cases, simply guessing and typing an address based on a company name worked. For others, we used a favorite search engine, Google, with backup from AltaVista.

What you don't find on one search engine may be listed on another. A tip: The more obscure an item, the deeper in the search results you have to dig. Some items were found on the second or third page. And a warning: When shopping online, make sure to check for shipping charges and return policies before ordering.

For some things, we found information but no online shopping, such as for balot, a Philippine delicacy of a cooked fertilized duck egg (worldroom.tamu.edu/VirtSuit/phil.htm).

And, for many specialty items, such as Blue Bell ice cream, we found prices that squash the notion that the Web is a haven for bargain hunters.

Of the $97 for a gallon-and-a-half of ice cream, about $44 goes to FedEx for overnight shipping, $12 is profit for Newman and the rest pays for the ice cream, a cooler and dry ice.

Newman doesn't work for Blue Bell. But when the company quit shipping individual orders years ago she decided to offer the ice cream as one of the services from her home-based business, the Newman Co. in Brenham, Texas.

What makes it so special? 'It's not icy," Newman said. She says vanilla is the flavor of choice for many. 'It's so creamy. It really tastes like homemade ice cream."

Still, Newman's lofty prices brought gasps from a Texas transplant on our in-house panel of gourmands.

'Ouch!" Times North Suncoast theater critic Barbara Fredricksen said. 'Six gallons and I could fly to Houston and have Tex-Mex along with the vanilla bean ice cream."

For some, food nostalgia means soft drinks such as Moxie, a cola dating to the late 19th century from Massachusetts, and Cheerwine, a cherry-flavored drink from North Carolina.

Pop, the Soda Shop, turned out to be a treasure chest for those seeking regional drinks. The Arizona site started two years ago when owner Jeff Guarino wanted a better root beer and more of a selection than offered in groceries.

'I thought there had had to be more than Coke and Pepsi out there," said Guarino, whose site features more than 300 brands of soft drinks and who has shipped drinks worldwide.

The minimum order is only one bottle, though shipping costs that start at $5 encourage customers to order more. A 12-ounce bottle of Moxie sells for $1.49, as does Cheerwine, which doesn't sell online.

Guarino won't divulge how many orders the site gets, but the company's first storefront is expected to open soon in Phoenix.

Some of the following prices include shipping (such as for bagels). But we found too many sites that make it difficult for consumers to determine shipping fees without going through the entire ordering process.

One such case was Caribou coffee from Minneapolis. Shipping charges can range from $3.20 to $21.25, depending on delivery method.

We couldn't get the coffee in liquid form, as a colleague hoped, but beans could be ordered at www.caribou-coffee.com/main.cfm.

Nantucket Nectars was found at www.juiceguys.com (with 24 17.5-ounce bottles of juice cocktails at $24.50).

Grown-ups who are still kids at heart find can Fizzies, flavored tablets that fizz into a soft drink when dropped in water, in six flavors at www.fizzies.com (72 tablets for $11.99).

For beer lovers, www.brewmall.com claims 4,260 items, including books and clothes, along with beer. Beer information is available at www.realbeer.com. Some microbreweries, such as www.brooklynbrewery.com, offer their products online.

When searching for food on the Internet, recipes pop up by the bushel, making it more difficult to find some items to order.

But green corn tamales can be found at www.sylviascanasta.com/order-food.html (three dozen with Cheddar cheese for $59). Ostrich sausage is available at www.gilbertsville.com/dshar1.htm (two pounds for $24). A variety of foods, from snails to truffles, is available at www.EthnicGrocer.com.

For snacks, Poore Brothers Potato Chips cost $1.69 for a 5.5-ounce bag, and a two-gallon canister of Utz Potato Chips runs $11.75. Salmon jerky was found at www.jtb.com/gift/selection5/main-e.html (a pound for about $31) and stores.yahoo.com/josephsons/index.html (a pound for $28).

Barbecue lovers were passionate about their favorites. For those who favor North Carolina style, we found information at www.ncemcs.com/carolina_country/FEATURES/gift%20guide/meatpo.html. For those who prefer Memphis, we found Corky's.

We found many sites that offer barbecue sauces and seasonings. Among the Kansas City-style sauces recommended by colleagues were those at www.gatesbbq.com and www.bbqgrocer.com/sauces.html.

Expatriate New Yorkers complain that they can't get a 'real" bagel in Florida, but they can head to www.hhbagels.com, where two dozen cost $45. A nice review of New York bagels is at www.shaw-review.com/bagels.htm.

But don't count on a search engine to ferret out the true New Yorkers among bagelmakers: On close inspection, it turns out that www.oldnewyork.com is in California, and the New York Bagel Bakery is in Santiago, Chile.

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