That particular day will live forever in infamy and its lesson never forgotten.
The research had been done, checked and triple-checked. The consumer panels agreed the changes were good ones. The “new moister” Drake’s Cakes hit the store shelves that morning. The time is now around 10 a.m. CST, and given Drake’s is an East Coast-based brand, the new products have been on the shelves approximately four to six hours.
There is an urgent knock at my door, and I look up to find my consumer affairs supervisor. “You need to come downstairs and listen to the comments from the Drake’s consumers. They are NOT happy with the product changes!” stated the supervisor. Boy, was she right. Phone lines were ablaze with disgruntled consumers. We listened as these loyal consumers, many who had eaten the product for more than 20 years, tell us it was “HORRIBLE.” (To get the full effect of the word horrible, you must work to get the R’s stuck in your throat like a growl.)
Now it was time to break the news to marketing. It was their turn to hear the “horrible” news. We sat there in disbelief. Where did we do wrong? What did we miss in the research?
Before we embarked on this change, the No. 1 consumer complaint about Drake’s Cakes had been, “The product is dry.” So our job was to do the work to improve the products. But it was obvious we had failed to ask the right questions of the right people. Alienating our loyal Drake’s consumers was not our intent, nor was it an option. Now it was time to swallow our pride and do the only thing that would save the brand — change back to the original formulation.
For a consumer packaged goods company, the voice of the consumer in the form of a customer comment or complaint is a gift. Statistics show that for every person who calls with a comment or complaint, there are 35 to 100 consumers who will not make the phone call. Those 35 to 100 consumers represent the worst-case scenario: They just quit purchasing your product.
Last August, Hillshire Brands Co., Downers Grove, IL, introduced a new lemon Sara Lee pound cake and at the same time announced it had also updated the recipe for its all-butter pound cake to be — you guessed it — “more moist.” If you want to see the outpouring of public complaints about this change, you can go to www.bakingbusiness.com and search “Sara Lee pound cake.” Look at the 100+ reader comments offered. Some even stated in their complaints that the new version lists sugar as the first ingredient while the old version listed eggs first.
Consumers today are smart and educated, and if you listen, they will tell you exactly what they are thinking. Swallowing your pride and returning to the original formulation are hard to do when you make a mistake, but it may be the only way to save the product, the brand and the sales volume.
Currently, there are many iconic bakery brands laying idle, waiting for their new owners and the fate that will follow their acquisition. Hostess Twinkies, Chocolate Cupcakes, Ho Hos, Wonder Bread, Beefsteak Rye and Home Pride Breads are but a few of those brands.
There will be countless corporate meetings and executive discussions as to how to reintroduce these iconic brands. Tens and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars will be spent on research and marketing plans to determine how to best maximize the value of these iconic bakery brands. Hopefully, someone will take the time to learn from the mistakes of other iconic brands. Whether it is New Coke, Drake’s Cakes or Sara Lee pound cake, taking a lesson from the reintroduction mistakes of other iconic brands will help avoid “HORRIBLE” mistakes.