The Guy Who Invented The Idea Of Having Over 30 Flavors Of Spaghetti Sauce

Me me me me, that’s what product development and marketing is all about these days. Give people individual experiences, let them customize, and choice choice choice. It didn’t used to be that way. Companies spent millions developing the one flavor that appealed to the most people, and then bombarded audiences with repetitive marketing messages. In this 17-minute talk, Malcolm Gladwell describes how this all changed because of one obsessed researcher. He believed there was no perfect spaghetti sauce, but only perfect spaghetti sauces. The food industry would never be the same.


Edit Your Comment

  1. Michael Belisle says:

    I clearly didn’t watch the clip yet, but this should be qualified to “in America”. My experience in Europe is that stores there do sell one kind of sauce and nobody bought it except me, the foolish American.

    An Italian chastised me for it and promptly trained me in the art. And there’s more than one recipe.

  2. Yeah…it’s not hard to make a decent pasta…the most commercial variation I ever invested in was in college, where I would get “beef flavored” spaghetti sauce, because I couldn’t afford ground beef.

  3. ElizabethD says:

    I love Malcolm Gladwell and could watch him talk for hours. (This is an old clip, right? “Blink” has been out for a while.)

    Ragu > Prego

    Prego has always been way too sweet IMO. I bet the dreaded corn syrup is to blame.

  4. kimsama says:

    As an Italian, forgive me for thinking I can make my own damn sauce that’s a billion times tastier than any of the shite that Prego or Ragu make, regardless of their 3 billion varieties. Truly discriminating consumers won’t care if there is 1 type of Prego or 100.

    The idea Moskowitz came up with is interesting, however, it’s only partially sound. It’s sort of the “long tail” version of sales — stock something for everyone. Unfortunately, most grocery stores don’t want to stock 30 types of Ragu and 30 types of Prego, so that’s where his brilliant idea sort of falls apart.

  5. B says:

    Thank you, Howard Moscovitz, for teaching the food industry that not everybody likes the same thing.

  6. qwickone says:

    @kimsama: my store (Giant) stocks at least 10 of them…

  7. Whitey Fisk says:

    I was wondering what happened to Leo Sayer.

  8. less_is_best says:

    Ever walked into an adult store and looked at “massagers”? The variety is mind boggling…..

  9. Seriously, Howard Moscovitz needs to be featured on Real Men of Genius!

  10. mantari says:

    And, yet, there is one step further. Mass customization, which says that rather than breaking individuals into clusters, you treat individuals and individuals. But the only problem there is the one mentioned in the clip… not everybody knows what they really want.

  11. brilliantmoron says:

    I don’t think this fits in with our current world view…you are either with one type of spaghetti sauce or against it…there is no in between.

  12. magic8ball says:

    OTOH, there are some products that drive me crazy when they’re marketed this way – I’m looking at a shelf with 8 different brands of, say, laundry detergent, and each brand has about 6 different flavors, and yet I have a funny feeling that I’m really looking at 48 boxes of the exact same ingredients.

  13. Caprica Six says:

    Most importantly, did you get a load of his hair?

  14. bohemian says:

    I don’t care if there are 30 kinds of spaghetti sauce, I make whatever pasta sauce based on the dish.

    Some of this customization just makes buying things too confusing. When the same brand of dish soap has 13 different scents for the exact same product it starts to become noise.

  15. morsteen says:

    did anyone else notice that this guy says “uh” or “uhm” almost every 10 seconds. GODAMN that’s one of the most annoying things ever. I hate him already lol.

  16. MercuryPDX says:

    @bohemian: That’s when it becomes less about which will clean more dishes using the least amount of product and more about “I love when my entire kitchen smells like green apples.”

  17. Michael Belisle says:

    @magic8ball: You think choosing detergent is tough? Just wait until you have to pick a Medicare Part D prescription drug plan.

  18. morsteen says:

    well in the beginning anyways,…he’s ok now i guess lol.

  19. mgy says:

    @morsteen: I wish you wouldn’t have pointed that out. Now I can’t hear anything else.


  20. disavow says:

    Blink is superb.

    @bohemian: Barry Schwartz gave a great speech at TED on exactly that issue, that the sheer number of choices we face can sometimes make us *less* happy than we would be otherwise.


  21. kimsama says:

    @qwickone: For sure. But they don’t stock over 30. So, his idea = partially enacted.

    Online retailers like Amazon do stock the long tail, but that’s not where most people get their groceries.

    @morsteen: Oh no, you are right, and I agree with mgy! How do I turn it off inside my brain?!

  22. mammalpants says:

    i wish malcolm gladwell was my brother. i like everything about that guy.

  23. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    While I agree that it’s nice/good to have stuff that appeals to our individual tastes, I emphatically disagree with Malcolm Gladwell’s assumption that Howard Moscovtiz unlocked a door to happiness. Research (and common sense/empirical evidence) suggests that consumer products — and the large varieties and consumption thereof — do not breed lasting happiness or satisfaction. A very well-reasoned argument of this can be found in the book The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz.

  24. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    @disavow: Oooh, you beat me to it.

  25. landsnark says:

    @Whitey Fisk: LOL! Digital milk just came out of my e-nose.

  26. magic8ball says:

    @Michael Belisle: looking forward to that!

  27. chiieddy says:

    @ElizabethD: Yeah, the clip is dated 2004. Malcolm Gladwell is awesome. He has a great ‘fro too :)

  28. AdmiralNelson says:

    The best thing I’ve seen on consumerist. Thoroughly informative and entertaining.

  29. dotcomrade says:

    I love Malcom Gladwell–he’s fun to watch and his books are an easy read. If you want more Malcolm, here’s an interview (transcript and video) with the best interviewer in the business–Brian Lamb–bar none.


    BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Malcolm Gladwell, why do you do what you do?

    MALCOLM GLADWELL, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST, “THE NEW YORKER”: Why do I do what I do? Because I failed at everything else, I think is the short answer.

    But I’m just curious. You know, I want to know about the world. And I’m in a position where I get to wander around and take a look at all kinds of things I wouldn’t ordinarily be able to take a look at. It’s like being an 11-year-old for your entire life, which is a fabulous thing to be…

  30. mac-phisto says:

    hmm…diversification of the market. interesting concept. is this why my 401(k) has 26 different investment options & they’re all losing money?

  31. @mac-phisto: I went with the one that sent me as little snail mail paper as possible. it’s very ridiculous how much shit is sent your way. (this was when I was working “p/t” at a popular computer co. named after a fruit retail store). That was a lose/lose/lose situation.

    I concluded that there’s some sorta kickback that the paper industry has when it comes to the 401(k) packet mailings.

    ::double checks tinfoil hat is seated correctly::

  32. PSUMarkDC says:

    @disavow: Beat me to it – I was going to mention the Barry Schwartz clip because Gladwell and Schwartz (actually, these exact same speeches) were the only reason I paid any attention to my “user interface design” class senior year of college. Now I can’t walk down the aisle at Giant without wondering whether I’m being liberated or paralyzed!

  33. facework says:

    Choices about something like jarred sauce, after a point, stop making sense because they lose any semblance of true distinctiveness. It’s just shelves of stupid, mindless faux choices. What are we, a collective of Consumer Borg? (resistance is futile, we will add your distinctiveness to our own. Aaaagh.)

    I think Americans have a ton more culinary sophistication than to fall for that (if they choose). And it’s not because they’ve been offered 30 flavors of “spaghetti” sauce/slop in a jar. It’s most likely because of the influences of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin followed by the Food Network.

    I grew up in household where it was always “spaghetti” no matter what the pasta shape, all covered with some bland red sauce, with meat usually. Now people know there is penne, rotini, moustachioli, or whatever, and spaghetti is just a long, thin, round noodle. And people most likely also know that the great sauces can’t be dumped out of a jar, and that treating yourself like a sensual, feeling, tasting person by making a sauce is easy and such a worthwhile thing to do.

    Thirty flavors of jarred sauce just depresses me. This doesn’t give people choice. It just steals something, some fundamental lifeblood out of the already threadbare soul of the American Consumer.

  34. Crrusher says:

    del monte > hunts

  35. mobilene says:

    @Crrusher: In the realm of canned sauces, Del Monte >> all the rest.

  36. B says:

    @facework: Wouldn’t the Borg all buy the same tomato sauce?

  37. char says:

    I agree with the make your own sentiment, but even then you go to the canned tomatoes (Unless your living in mexico, fresh tamatoes just aren’t worth it right now) and what do you see?

    The same goddamn thing with a hundred little flavorings added and no real flavor difference, just a few buzzwords to throw out at your next dinner party.

    I got suckered into that shit for years, now I just know the brands that I like and buy those. The one exception to the “Flavored canned tomatoes” is the muir Glen Fire roasted tomatoes, those things are just damn tasty. As I said in another thread, I’d drill in ANWAR for Muir Glenn Fire roasted tomatoes.

  38. meeroom says:

    Making your own sauce is so much easier after you do it a few times why buy jarred?
    1.) Olive Oil-med/hot pan. Let it sit for a minute
    2.) 3 Anchovies, chopped, or anchovy paste. Mash it up in the oil until it is dissolved.
    3.) 2 cloves garlic chopped.
    4.) 1 Tbsp Crushed Red pepper flakes. Let this sit for a minute or two sizzling in the med/hot oil.
    5.) Large can of whole tomatoes. mash em up in the rest of the stuff with your spoon.
    5. Add Oregano, parsley, basil, or cheat and use Emeril’s Italian seasoning.
    6.) Salt and pepper to taste
    7.) Feeling fancy? Add Capers
    Toss with pasta.
    Copious amounts of fresh grated parmesan cheese and chopped fresh parsley make everything taste better, especially pasta.
    F Prego

  39. yesteryear says:

    TED is rad. everyone should spend a few hours watching their talks. my favorite is james howard kunstler on how ugly the american landscape has become. ive been wanting to go to their conference but its like thousands of dollars for a ticket which is really unfair. but thats another story…

  40. failurate says:

    I lost all respect for him after he married Selma.

  41. failurate says:

    @facework: I remember when Italian sausage finally made it to my family’s spaghetti night. The years and years of sauce w/ hamburger just felt so wasted.

  42. Tonguetied says:

    @meeroom: Re: your sauce recipe. I think you miss the point of the talk.
    For you that’s a great sauce. For me just the thought of anchovies turns my stomach. Instead I would rather choose something different.
    And being lazy I would instead probably go to the supermarket instead of making it myself and buy something closer to my preferences. If the only choice I had for sauce were one that followed your recipe I wouldn’t buy it and the company would be out a customer. By giving me choices they keep my business.

  43. CumaeanSibyl says:

    This video talks about a very interesting cultural shift that we could all be discussing if we weren’t bitching about people’s personal tastes not living up to our standards.

  44. failurate says:

    @yesteryear: Holy crap! People can make a good living be holier than thou pessimistic jackasses?!

  45. drjayphd says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: Wait, you want to talk about the topic at hand? Don’t you know this is the Internet? ;)

  46. ibelli says:

    Gladwell is a douche.

  47. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @drjayphd: Damn, sorry, I forgot myself.

    Um… this is just like when the Nazis started manufacturing spaghetti sauce!