Sales were falling, and the makers of Brownberry’s Natural Wheat bread didn’t know what was wrong. Blind taste tests were held and the results were in. Brownberry was “too firm and too bitter.” So they changed it.
And everyone freaked out.
From the Sun-Times:
[Jennifer Hartley, Arnold’s director of bread innovation] explained, “Breads have gotten softer as different ingredients and technology allow us to deliver a softer bread. Many consumers are looking for that as a core feature.”
With the goal of making a softer and sweeter bread, bakers reduced the salt, replaced corn syrup with sugar, added fiber (inulin, sugarcane fiber, resistant tapioca starch), raisin juice, wheat gluten and calcium sulfate. They took out milk and whey.
Company execs thought they had a winner.
“We were high-fiving about the results” when the product hit store shelves in April, Hartley said.
“Immediately our 800 number lit up like a Christmas tree. We had 2,500 calls in five weeks, more than we would have in our whole business in a five-week period. We were flooded with letters. It was unbelievable, the passion people had about the bread and the anger they had toward the company. By the end of the second week we were at a crisis point, with sales data and calls all lining up to say on this item we made a mistake.”
Two lessons: Not everyone wants soft and sweet. Longtime fans should have been among the taste-testers.
“Initially you feel disappointed and defensive, like, ‘Hey, this thing tested really well,’ ” Hartley said. “Then you realize that they’re not going to have any of it. You need to listen. We were all shocked and felt horrible that we had done this to these loyal consumers.”
Not only was the bread softer and lighter…it was literally lighter. 4 oz lighter, and cost $0.20 more. Brownberry has comitted to switching back to the original recipe, apologized and mailed $2.00 coupons to consumers who complained.
Didn’t anyone learn from “New Coke?” Blind taste tests just aren’t a very good method for determining the success of a product. We’re sure Crystal Pepsi was a big hit in blind taste tests. —MEGHANN MARCO
‘Bring back our bread’ [Chicago Tribune] (Thanks, Kiyoshi!)