Category Archives: food

Inventions in Everything: The Beerbrella

With record hot temperatures this summer, the IIE team has been inspired to seek out inventions that promise to deliver the one thing many on the team crave this time of year: a cool, refreshing beverage!

Better still, what we want is something that will help keep our canned or bottled beverage cool enough, long enough so we can enjoy consuming its contents at a leisurely pace. Because when it is as hot as it has been, the last thing we want to do is expend more energy to consume our drink of choice at a rushed pace before it gets too warm to be worth consuming.

That brings us to today's featured invention, for which inventors Mason McMullin, Robert Bell, and Mark See were issued U.S. Patent 6,637,447 on 28 October 2003. Here's Figure 1 from the patent, which illustrates not just what the invention is, but also acts as an instruction manual for how to install it in the field, so to speak.

U.S. Patent 6,637,447 Figure 1

In case it is not clear from the figure, here is the description of the invention from the patent's abstract:

The present invention provides a small umbrella ("Beerbrella") which may be removably attached to a beverage container in order to shade the beverage container from the direct rays of the sun. The apparatus comprises a small umbrella approximately five to seven inches in diameter, although other appropriate sizes may be used within the spirit and scope of the present invention. Suitable advertising and/or logos may be applied to the umbrella surface for promotional purposes. The umbrella may be attached to the beverage container by any one of a number of means, including clip, strap, cup, foam insulator, or as a coaster or the like. The umbrella shaft may be provided with a pivot to allow the umbrella to be suitably angled to shield the sun or for aesthetic purposes. In one embodiment, a pivot joint and counterweight may be provided to allow the umbrella to pivot out of the way when the user drinks from the container.

That latter capability is key, because otherwise, one would have to expend excess energy to constant detach and reattach the invention while drinking.

At this point, you might think an invention like the Beerbrella is somewhat redundant. After all, haven't there been any number of inventions whose purpose is to keep a can or bottle of beer colder for longer after being removed from a refrigerated environment through the miracle of insulation?

Alas not, according to the Beerbrella's inventors, who describe where previous inventions have fallen short by providing incomplete coverage.

For example, the popular insulated beverage sleeve known as a "coozie" may be provided, manufactured of soft expanded polyurethane foam. These beverage sleeves are typically provided with an applied graphic advertising a beverage brand or the name of the company giving away the device as a promotion. A can, glass, or bottle may be inserted into the sleeve. The sleeve acts as an insulator to prevent ambient heat as well as heat from the user's hands, from warming the beverage.

Similar devices are known for use specifically with bottles beverages. In this variation, a tailored expanded polyurethane jacket may be provided, replete with zipper, to encapsulate substantially all of a bottle.

Various devices are known for supporting beverages, such as coasters and the like as well as beverage stands, trays, and supports. One example is illustrated in Foley et al., U.S. Pat. No. 5,823,496, issued Oct. 20, 1998 and incorporated herein by reference. Foley provides an outdoor stand with a stake or pole which may be inserted into the ground to support a beverage container.

Similia, U.S. Pat. No. 4,638,645, issued Jan. 27, 1987 and incorporated herein by reference, discloses a beverage container cooler for receiving a single beverage container (e.g., can) and providing a location for ice or the like to cool the beverage.

One problem with these Prior Art devices is that although they do provide insulation for beverages, they do not shield the beverage from the direct rays of the sun. A beverage left out in the sun, even if insulated or cooled with ice, quickly warms due to the effect of the intense infrared radiation from the sun, particularly on hot, sunny summer days.

Thus, it remains a requirement in the art to provide a means for shielding a beverage from direct sunlight.

They convinced a U.S. patent examiner with this irrefutable logic, who proceeded to award them with a U.S. patent for their invention of the Beerbrella.

Unfortunately, we could find no examples of where the Beerbrella could be purchased today, over 17 years after its patent was issued. It would appear consumers have settled on the alternative strategy of simply drinking their beverages slightly faster whenever their drinks are at risk of becoming too warm for optimal consumption when exposed to direct sunlight.

From the Inventions in Everything Archives

The IIE team has previously covered the following related inventions:

Shrinkflation and a New Tool to Track Price Inflation in Real Time

Consumer prices are rising rapidly these days. Just last month, we found the discounted sale price of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup had risen to $0.96 per can, a rise of 13% above pre-pandemic levels.

One reason we track the price of Campbell's iconic tomato soup because the product itself has proven to be remarkably stable over time. If you stepped into a time machine and traveled back to nearly any point in time from January 1898 to the present, you could likely find the same 10.75 ounce size can of condensed tomato soup stocked for sale in American grocery stores.

That makes Campbell's iconic soup unlike other products, whose producers engage in a market tactic called shrinkflation, where they keep the sale prices the same, but shrink the size of the goods they sell. If the phrase sounds familiar, it is because the topic is increasingly popping up in the news.

There are lots of reasons for companies to engage in shrinkflation, but the end result is the same. You get less stuff for the same amount of spending. Whether its toilet paper, cat food, or packages of Hershey's chocolate kisses.

Things that don't change don't have that option. Unlike these other kinds of products, they cannot get away with shrinking the amount of goods inside their packaging. Because these goods cannot get smaller, producers are forced to pass along their higher costs from the escalating prices of the things they have to buy, which consumers see as rising prices. That difference makes these goods very useful for keeping track of how inflation is affecting your personal finances.

Speaking of which, keeping track of those price changes can be a time intensive activity. When we track Campbell's tomato soup prices, we review dozens of weekly ads to identify the prices at which retailers are selling them each time we update our database of monthly price data for the product. Our price database for Campbell's tomato soup extends back to January 1898.

With prices now escalating rapidly enough to become a regularly featured news topic, we were excited to find that Microsoft has introduced a new capability into its Edge web browser, which makes it easy to track the recent price history of products like Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup. Here's the announcement from the rollout of Microsoft Edge's price history tracking capability:

Before making a purchase, I like to make sure that I’m getting the best deal possible. Because prices on certain items fluctuate over time, knowing when to buy can make all the difference. This is why I’m excited to share that, this month, Microsoft Edge is releasing a new feature called price history.  It shows me historical online prices to help me decide if I should wait a few days before making a purchase. To see an item’s price history, all you have to do is click on the blue tag in the address bar. Learn more about which retailers are supported. This is just another way we’re helping you save time and money.

In our case, it provides a very easy way to track recent price trends for our favorite inflation-tracking product! Here are two snapshots of what we found when we looked at its price history on 28 May 2021 and again, 10 days later, on 7 June 2021.

Shopping in Microsoft Edge: Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup Price History, Snapshots on 28 May 2021 and 7 June 2021

Recognizing that we're looking at a limited sample of just three large retailers (Amazon, Wal-Mart, and Target), it's interesting to see the historical prices that MS Edge reports over the past month generally agree with what we've documented using our well-established tracking methods.

Obviously, there are more consumer goods than just Campbell's Tomato Soup to consider in assessing how fast inflation is growing in the U.S. At this writing, Microsoft Edge's price history tool pulls its data from products sold at eight large retailers, including Amazon, Wal-Mart, Etsy, Macy's, Nordstrom, Home Depot, Target, and Best Buy.

If you have Microsoft Edge, check out its price history tracking capability out for yourself by picking out a basket of goods and watching their price changes over time. If nothing else, you might get a very good idea of how today's inflation is directly affecting you and your quality of life.


Bonus update! Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB) is reporting its previously projected profits will be negatively impacted by rising material and transportation costs. That confirmed upward cost pressure will make it less likely for significant discounting of tomato soup prices in the next several months, even as demand declines to its seasonal low.

The Pandemic Price Escalation of Campbell’s Tomato Soup

Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup is an iconic American consumer good that's been around over 123 years. That means we have over 123 years worth of monthly price data on how much consumers have paid for a standard 10.75 ounce can whenever grocers have put it on sale on their store shelves.

But we're not going to revisit that whole history today. Instead, we're going to look at the price trends for Campbell's Tomato Soup since January 2000, where we really want to focus on the months of the Coronavirus Recession. The following chart shows the individual price per can and the trailing twelve month average Americans have paid for a can of Campbell's iconic soup from January 2000 through May 2021.

Unit Price per Can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup at Discounted Sale Pricing, January 2000 - May 2021

Through May 2021, the trailing twelve month average of Campbell's condensed tomato soup has risen to $0.96 per can, up 13% from an average price of $0.86 per can in February 2020 (Month 0 for the coronavirus recession).

Much of that increase has been driven by higher demand, where retailers have been much less likely to discount their sale prices over the last 15 months. The only exception to that came in January and February 2021, when the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic in many parts of the U.S. prompted a temporary shift in consumer demand in favor of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup, which many believe helps relieve cold, flu, and COVID symptoms. That shift in consumer demand led to a relative oversupply of tomato soup on retailers' store shelves, which in turn, prompted them to discount their prices to sell relatively more tomato soup during these months.

With the decline in COVID cases since January 2021, that relative imbalance in consumer demand has ebbed. Discounted sales have ended, but sale prices for tomato soup remain elevated.

The potential for the escalated prices of tomato soup to continue is high, with higher inflation having taken hold in the U.S. in recent months. The test for that will come this summer as seasonal demand for tomato soup declines, where the absence of discounted sale pricing would effectively lock in the pandemic price increase.

Just for fun, we'll close by pointing to exactly where the price data in the chart during the coronavirus pandemic comes from! Follow the links below to see the advertisements from the indicated retailers seeking to sell Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup during the months of the Coronavirus Pandemic Recession:

The Health Benefits of COVID Lockdowns and Soda Taxes?

How has the coronavirus lockdowns affected soda consumption?

With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, we set aside our project evaluating the ongoing impact of Philadelphia's controversial soda tax. But now, we can tap our established data sources and use the city's beverage tax collection data to see how the consumption of taxed beverages changed in Philadelphia in response to the lockdown measures state and local politicians imposed on its residents and businesses.

The following chart illustrates Philadelphia's monthly tax revenues from its soda tax and reveals what we found in comparing the period from January 2017 through February 2020 with the coronavirus lockdown recession period of March 2020 through December 2020.

Pennsylvania imposed its first statewide coronavirus lockdown on 17 March 2020. In the "before" period, the city of Philadelphia collected an average of $6,424,887 per month from its controversial soda tax.

But from March 2020 through December 2020, the city's monthly tax revenue from the Philadelphia Beverage tax dropped by 13.3% to an average of $5,570,658 per month.

This is where we decided to have some fun with a "what if" analysis. According to Harvard's soda tax advocates, a $0.01 per ounce tax increase on beverages would increase prices of taxed beverages by 16.3%, causing soda consumption to fall by 20%. The advocates believe the resulting reduction in soda consumption provides health benefits in the form of the reduced incidence of obesity and diabetes.

The 13.3% reduction in Philadelphia's soda tax collections represents the amount by which Pennsylvania's coronavirus lockdown restrictions have reduced soda consumption in the city. Going by the Harvard researchers' study, the coronavirus lockdown recession has provided the health benefits of the equivalent of an additional $0.00665 per ounce increase in the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, reducing the incidence of both obesity and diabetes in Philadelphia.

Does anyone really believe that happened in Philadelphia during the coronavirus pandemic?

References

City of Philadelphia. Department of Revenue. City Monthly Revenue Collections. [Online Database]. Accessed 19 March 2021.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health CHOICES (CHildhood Obesity Intervention Cost-Effectiveness Study) Project. Brief: Cost-Effectiveness of a Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Excise Tax in 15 U.S. Cities [PDF Document]. 12 December 2016.

How Much SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus Is There in the World?

What if you could collect all the particles of SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus there are in the world together in one place. How much space do you think it would occupy?

Mathematician Kit Yates ran a back-of-the-envelope calculation to find out, where the final result might surprise you. The basic math has been described in the following short video:

In U.S. terms, 160 milliliters is the equivalent of 5.4 fluid ounces, which would better fit in a 5.5 fl. oz. V-8 juice can, the smallest size container in which this particular product may be purchased! Or if you prefer to reference another popular Campbell's product, all the coronavirus in the world would fit in just about half of a single iconic 10.75 fluid ounce can of Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup.

For our regular readers, if the name Kit Yates sounds familiar, it's because we've been linking to a BBC Four radio interview he gave in April 2020, in which he describes how back calculation may be used to identify the specific timing of events that have changed the trends for coronavirus infections. We've been employing that method as an integral part of our series exploring Arizona's experience during the coronavirus pandemic. In case you missed it, here is the previous entry in that series.