Brownberry Backlash Results In Return To Original Recipe

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!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. y2julio says:

    Why not put out two products?

  2. TechnoDestructo says:

    Was this a blind taste test using a random group of people, or was this a blind taste test using people who actually previously ate this brand of bread?

    That would make a huge difference.

  3. mantari says:

    Interesting story. A lack of due dilligence, but it is nice to see that the company was trying to address its customer’s needs, and then was just as quick to do an about-face when it went wrong.

    I wouldn’t mind being 3x more loyal to a company like that.

  4. OnceWasCool says:

    The problem with taste test if often the size of the sample. Take coke for example. The “original” that we know from our childhood was made with sugar. Now they use corn syrup because a taste test couldn’t detect the difference. Larger samples can easily detect the sharp sweetness of sugar compared to the bad after taste of corn syrup.

  5. enm4r says:

    @mantari: I agree. It’s great to know they’re constantly developing for me, even better to know they’re willing to do what consumers want in the long run.

    On another note, I randomly bought this bread last week, as I was looking for a new whole grains bread to try. It tasted like cardboard with pieces of oats stuck to it. But if that’s what they’re going for, more power to them.

  6. RonDiaz says:

    I was so young but Crystal Pepsi was awesome.

    Also if they took out Corn Syrup and replaced it with real sugar that is a huge thumbs up in my book. I wish I would have known, I would have bought some in support.

  7. Motor_Head says:

    I noticed Aunt Millie’s bread now has a “No HFCS” version…that’s the one I buy exclusively now.

  8. davere says:

    I used to love Pepsi One. Then one day, the cans went from silver to black and it had a “better taste!” label. It tasted like salty pee. I wondered it was just that case, so I bought a new one. Nope, same salty pee taste. So that was it for me.

    Why do companies mess with something perfectly good?

    Thankfully Coke Zero came to the rescue. It’s no Pepsi One, but it does the trick.

  9. ThyGuy says:

    I think they should keep the new version they created and make it their new type of bread for the people who took the poll. Why any company would completely remove a product without TESTING it along with the original recipe in the general public for a couple weeks is beyond baffling to me.

  10. Buran says:

    So why haven’t my repeated complaints about the “new!” nacho doritos made a difference?

  11. crayonshinobi says:

    Personally, I would hope they’d put all their manufacturing effort towards producing the Oatnut flavor…it’s outstanding.

  12. CaptainConsumer says:

    I don’

  13. CaptainConsumer says:

    I dt think on’

  14. CaptainConsumer says:

    I don’t think we should be TOO hard on blind taste tests, it’s HONEST, LEGAL work for blind citizens

  15. CaptainConsumer says:

    Wow, next story on flippy browsers

  16. Brendoon says:

    Hmmmm Oatnut … I have two loaves at home. Its my new favorite bread. Soft and chewy, yet kinda crunchy. I picked it up randomly one day as it was on sale and now I am hooked.

  17. FreakyStyley says:

    @RonDiaz: Amen, Crystal Pepsi ruled.

    @davere: Coke Zero is better than Pepsi One ever thought about being.

  18. dwarf74 says:

    I’m a little confused. They went from sugar back to corn syrup? Or was it the other way around?

    It’s becoming a challenge anymore to find bread without high fructose corn syrup in it. My fiancee and I have actually switched to getting fresh bread from Panera… It costs a bit more, but it’s pretty tasty.

    We used to get Brownberry Double Fiber since it had real sugar instead of HFCS. Then we switched to the Meijer store brand, which had one of the shortest ingredient lists I’ve ever seen. Meijer decided to screw that one up, though, and Brownberry had apparently switched to HFCS, hence our departure to Panera.

    If they’ve gone back to the recipe they had when I started getting bread from them, I’ll gladly switch back.

  19. amyjay says:

    Nothing like sampling a wheat bread to people whose response made it clear that they like white bread.

    Personally, I like my wheat bread to be like a shingle.

  20. Saw the other day that Jones Soda is now in cans, and HFCS-free. The cartons say “Corn is for Cars…Sugar is for soda”. Cute, I bought a case for the office to encourage this sort of thing.

    Realistically how much is this a business decision (corn prices went through the roof on ethanol speculation with high gas prices) versus actual concern for customer’s desires?

    How many customers know the difference between HFCS and sugar.

  21. SadSam says:

    HFCS sucks and agree with all other posters that its close to impossible to find bread or bread products without it. We even tried buying bakery bread at our Publix and I was shocked!! to find out that Publix uses HFCS in its fresh made bread. Cereal is also tough, we normally buy Kashi and I think its HFCS free.

    Agree most of the public has no idea as to the differences between HFCS and sugar or even corn syrup.

  22. AcidReign says:

    …..The biggest reason Crystal Pepsi didn’t make it was shelf-life issues. A clear soft drink with mold in it is UGLY! Not good for business…

    …..You can spill a load of HFCS on the parking lot, and the bees won’t even eat it.

    …..Personally, my favorite store-bought bread is the Nature’s Own White Wheat. Yeah, I can probably buy more healthy stuff, but if I make excuses not to eat it… This bread is a good compromise between health and that sugary Sunbeam-like butter bread.

  23. Ugh. Most bread in North America is horrible. At least the one sold in Supermarkets.

    Seriously, no crust? Soft and spongy?

    Thank $deity the situation in Canada is a bit better, most larger cities have at least one or two bakeries that do the European style bread and quite a few supermarkets tend to stock them as well.

    I did try Panera on my last trip down south though and the bread is decent.

  24. MotherFury says:


    Oatnut is the best bread ever! (Oat Bran equally as good.) Haven’t touched white bread since I found it!

  25. bpotterr says:

    @y2julio: I agree. If Coca-Cola had replaced Diet Coke with Coke Zero, there would have been a huge backlash (a la New Coke). Instead, by releasing a separate product, they seem to have found success.

  26. ExGC says:

    The issue on blind taste tests is how they are conducted. If all you do is give a small sample of two products, one of which is sweeter, the sweeter one will always win. That’s what caused the “New Coke” debacle and is why Pepsi always won the “Pepsi Challenge.” The results vary enormously when people are asked to try the products out over a period of time or a third option is thrown into the mix.

  27. Ponygirl says:

    You know, I keep reading about the higher cost of corn products (HFCS, Tortilla, etc.) due to bio-fuel usage, and I think its a myth. I seem to recall reading an article a few months ago which said the Ethynol needs were having no real impact on corn prices because food corn and fuel corn are different products and there has been no decrease in food corn production ergo no shoratage of corn for corny products. I will have to look for the article.

  28. dwarf74 says:

    @SadSam: Yeah, Kashi cereal is HFCS-free. It’s one of the many reasons we get it. That, and it’s delicious. Kellogg’s is making organic cereals now, too, with actual sugar instead of HFCS, but oddly enough it’s more expensive than the Kashi varieties.

    You know, instead of “high fructose corn syrup,” labels should just say “diabetes.” They’d be more honest that way. :)

    (Wow, I just read my post and I sound more like a dirty hippy than I actually am…)

  29. mermaidshoes says:

    uh, i just have one question… how do i grow up to be a DIRECTOR OF BREAD INNOVATION?


  30. infinitysnake says:

    @Ponygirl: And yet corn prices went high enough in Mexico there were riots ovfer tortilla prices. They are also reportedly ripping out mescal to plant corn.

  31. lihtox says:

    @dwarf74: I didn’t know that about the organic Kellogg’s cereals; I’m normally suspicious of the term “organic” because it seems like a marketing ploy to me. I might have to try some now, when I see it on sale.

    Getting back to the original story, this method of testing new recipes with randomly selected taste-testers would encourage commoditization of their product, it seems to me, or at least assumes that bread is a commodity and people don’t look at brands. Interesting.

  32. ExGC says:

    @Ponygirl: Whatever the cause, the price of corn has more than doubled, from $1.80 a bushel to $3.90 a bushel, since the end of ’05.

  33. JustAGuy2 says:

    @davere:”It tasted like salty pee.”

    Um, I’m not sure I want answer, but… How do you KNOW this?

  34. snowferret says:

    Maybe the problem was the fact that it’s a food product called brown berry. Am I the only one that thinks of poo when they hear that?

  35. synergy says:

    Kashi rules.

  36. magilacudy says:

    @snowferret: Yeah definitely not appealing. I think the brand name is regional – in the New York area where I’m from I believe the bread is sold under the Arnold name.

  37. mattbrown says:

    but crystal pepsi was awesome.

  38. OnceWasCool says:

    You can do your own taste test with sugar vs HFCS (aka corn syrup).

    Buy a packet of unsweetened kool-aid. Mix the right amount of water and pour into two glasses. Sweeten one with sugar and the other with HFCS (corn syrup like Karo). Drink about have of the one with corn syrup then taste the one with sugar. HUGE difference.

    I think the food police is why all these products have changed. I use to like to snack on Honey Combs dry. Now, they taste like saw dust with very little sweetness.

    On one note for those that live in the south. Double Cola has made their drink with sugar in bottles to test the market. I know the Chattanooga Bottler is, but don’t know about the other.

  39. kimsama says:

    @magilacudy: Yeah, I know it as Arnold — I did a doubletake at the picture because at first I thought it was Arnold (same packaging, just a different name).

  40. silverlining says:


    “I’m a little confused. They went from sugar back to corn syrup? Or was it the other way around?

    It’s becoming a challenge anymore to find bread without high fructose corn syrup in it. My fiancee and I have actually switched to getting fresh bread from Panera… It costs a bit more, but it’s pretty tasty.”

    That was my thought too–I think they went from sugar TO cornsyrup, not the other way around. I used Brownberry for a long time, and was disappointed when Brownberry switched sweetener–it joined the legions of other breadmakers who use HFCS.

    Now I buy Rudi’s. More expensive, but no HCFS and less dough conditioner crap.

  41. Dervish says:

    @Ponygirl: “…because food corn and fuel corn are different products and there has been no decrease in food corn production ergo no shoratage of corn for corny products.”

    If I recall correctly it’s not that food corn is being directly diverted for fuel – it’s more that farmers are choosing to plant fuel corn instead of food corn, which drives up the cost.

    I may be wrong though. I work for a food producer and I know we’re dealing as a company with high HFCS prices and the issue of sugar vs. HFCS, but it doesn’t really affect the products I work on so I don’t have first-hand knowledge about it.

  42. phrygian says:

    Just a side note about HFCS — Not all corn syrup is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Pure corn syrup is just glucose, but HFCS is enzymatically-altered corn syrup (fructose) that’s added to regular corn syrup (glucose).

    Usually HFCS is something like 90% fructose/10% glucose. And since it’s all processed in the liver and the liver gives precedence to fructose-processing over glucose-processing…. Well, suffice it to say that HFCS is really not the same thing as corn syrup. While Karo is now HFCS, it and other corn syrups on the market didn’t used to be.

    I’m pedantic and off-topic, but for some strange reason it bothers me to see all corn syrup labelled as HFCS, when that’s not really the case.

  43. glitterpig says:

    Hey, that’s my bread. (Except it’s sold as “Arnold” here.) I thought it tasted different. Apparently I like the new recipe.

    Another reminder, I guess, to always read the stupid label even when you’ve been buying that brand for years. No wonder I’ve given up on books – I spent all my time reading food ingredient lists.