If It Ain’t Broke…

Nov 03, 2017

BY JIMMY EGELAND – CREATIVE DIRECTOR

I am a simple man with simple tastes. I don’t need a lot of variety in my life. In fact, I thrive on consistency and routine. Those that know me know I eat the same thing for lunch every day, and those that know me well know exactly what I eat for lunch every day. It’s pretty simple the way I see it—if I like something, I stick with it—and it’s been that way for as long as I can remember.

But before I get to my lunch each day, part of my morning routine includes eating a granola bar at 10am. Based on the previous paragraph, it shouldn’t come as surprise to find out that I’ve been eating the same kind of granola bar for the past three years. That is, until last Monday.

The day was typical enough at first. We go to dinner and then grocery shopping as a family on Mondays. My wife and I split up, each taking a 4-year-old, and divide and conquer our grocery list. Part of my path brings me to the granola bar section, but last Monday something was different. Something had changed.

As I reached for my tried and true brand and flavor of granola bars, I was met with a dreaded “New and Improved” starburst in the corner. To a consistency king such as myself, it might as well have said “Different and worse.” Reluctantly, I plopped two boxes into my cart and gruffly went about my shopping.

When Tuesday morning rolled around, I was genuinely nervous to taste the granola bar. As sad as that sentence is to write, it’s true. As I unwrapped the bar, the shape of it immediately angered me—again, completely ridiculous that the shape of granola bar could anger me—but truthful, nonetheless. The granola bar was denser, thinner, and stickier than before. One of the things I loved about the old formula was how it was thick, crunchy and not overly sweet. As I came to find out, “new and improved” meant, thinner, chewier, and sweeter—the antithesis of what I had come to love.

Using my frustration as fuel, I turned to social media for rectification. My opinion needed to be heard. Why would they change such an awesome formula? Why would they change anything? Why were they trying to hurt me?

I visited the company’s Facebook page, took a deep breath, and tried to keep it civil:

HI. I have been eating your granola bars daily for at least three years and I noticed you changed your [REDACTED] granola bar. I loved the old formula and if you are taking any feedback on the “new and improved” bars, they are much, much worse. To the point where I will have to stop buying them. They are thinner, chewier, and sweeter and none of those are improvements. These are simply regressions towards what the rest of the market is doing. This granola bar used to be different. Now it tastes like an over-priced [REDACTED] granola bar. Were your customers calling for this change? You changed what I loved about them. I genuinely hope you revert back to your old formula. It was so much better and distinguishing. Thanks.

Less than 24 hours later, I got a reply:

Thank you for your honest feedback, Jimmy. We’re so sorry to learn of your disappointment with our new recipe of [REDACTED] Granola Bars. We wanted to give our fans more of what they love about chewy granola bars, and a softer, chewier bite was requested. In order to deliver, we changed up the recipe with a shorter, cleaner list of ingredients. Based on these changes, many of the nutrient values changed as well. Be assured the weight of the bars is the same, but the size is smaller as ingredients are denser. For example, we replaced some of the large puffed soy crisps with more dense ingredients like rolled oats and nuts. Your comments are important to us and will certainly be shared with the foodies in the kitchen. Thank you for being a loyal fan and taking the time to reach out, as we truly value your opinion.

Despite my overall frustration about the situation, this was a good response at first read. But as I started to dissect and re-read some lines, it started to make me angry again. This granola bar was never chewy before—it was perfect just the way it was. This was them saying “People who like chewy granola bars like their granola bars chewy, so we made our granola bars chewy so that people who like chewy granola bars will like them.” I wasn’t done being angry on the internet.

I then sought out some reviews of the product to validate my claim. Luckily, these particular granola bars were sold on Amazon and had exceptional reviews. With my newfound customer research and a little anecdotal evidence of my own, I responded:

Thanks for your thoughtful response. I really do appreciate it. I am genuinely interested in where you got your customer feedback from, as I work with a company that is involved in this sort of thing. The only info I can find in terms of customer feedback is the 4.1 out of 5 stars these specific granola bars are getting on Amazon based on the reviews of 1,351 people. That, and the grocery store I buy them from could barely keep them on the shelves (I would buy them 2 or 3 boxes at a time if they were in stock). Seems like you had a pretty well liked product that people were buying already.

It was at this point that the granola bar company’s social media person decided to stop responding to me, and honestly, that was probably a good call. I was bringing data to a speculative guess fight and that can only lead to carnage.

But as I sit here writing this blog, I can’t help but feel vindicated. I happened to hop onto the granola bar company’s website for some background info and lo and behold they have a new rating system for their “new and improved” granola bars. Early returns are not looking good. The new bars are rated at a 1.5 out of 5 stars and have 22 comments, each of them negative. I hate to revel in the failure of others, but reading these comments brought me a genuine and intense joy. Is that bad? That’s probably bad.

So is there anything to be learned here? How about listening to your customers before you make a change to a beloved product. I’d be willing to bet that I am in this particular granola bar company’s top segment. I was a loyal customer, a brand advocate, and someone who bought the product consistently, exclusively, and frequently. I am the perfect customer to listen to. Now I can only hope that the groundswell of negative feedback the company is getting will force their hand to revert back to something that people loved, and from what I could tell, was consistently flying off the shelves.

If the “we want chewy” crowd really does exist, why not make a chewy version and sell them side by side with the original? Now the customer can decide which option tastes better, and based on sales, you can make a commitment to one or the other. Or, if both happen to keep flying off the shelves, you’ve now doubled your market! But alas, that is not the case.

In conclusion, while I’d love to post each and every negative review I read on the granola bar company’s website, I will restrain myself to just one. I think “Cynthia” put it best when she said:

I can never figure out why companies with great products revamp them into something awful.

Neither can I, “Cynthia.” Neither can I.