Don’t mess with a good thing

Don’t mess with a good thing

Not being a commercial breakfast cereal kind of person, I didn’t realise quite how many South Africans felt really strongly about their Rice Krispies until about 18 months ago when Kellogg SA replaced the original version with something very different.

rice krispies

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Rice Krispies which were no longer made just of rice, but of corn and wheat as well - a so-called multigrain. But that’s not all, they also added a vanilla, flavour, and about twice the amount of sugar than the originals.

That did not go down well with their customers. At all. Kellogg SA got a massive amount of hate on its Facebook page. 
They accused the company of “tricking” them into buying the “new, improved” Rice Krispies by not making it clear that the product is entirely different. 

Here’s a taste of that hate.

“I bought two boxes and my son HAAAAATES them!” said Gugulethu Zungu.
"And it's shady how you guys just put them there like they are the originals cos the vanilla flavour wording is so small and unnoticeable. Please stop production and return the original Rice Krispies.”
“Omw..cant believe the nation feels the same,” said Rukshana Dollie-Ismail. “My kids really don't like it and Kellogg’s has taken away the originality and memories too…”
“What were you thinking?” asked Mohammed Sader. “Epic fail. You are just destroying a strong household brand. My four-year-old nephew refuses to have the new product…”

Curiously, Kellogg insisted that all members of a large test group gave the new Rice Krispies a thumbs-up before the product was put onto the market as a replacement for the original.

Something must have been very off with that test group!

 The backlash reminded me of the time 35 years ago when Coca Cola’s decided to change its century-old secret formula - what a flop that was! “Too sweet!” was also the complaint that time.

And closer to home, in the mid-2000s Unilever got huge hate when it put its iconic green dishwashing liquid in an impractical upside down bottle - also after extensive market research confirmed it was a great idea, apparently -  and then swiftly scrapped it and went back to the old bottle.

But now the originals are back - but as a full import, they come with quite a price tag.

Kellogg SA is sticking with its sweet Vanilla multigrain version, made in SA, and they are not going to start making the original version here again. 

What they’re doing is importing the original from the UK, which is why the 510g box costs R70, compared with the Vanilla which costs about R40 for the 400g and R63 for the 600g box.

It will be interesting to see whether all those who said their lives were ruined will pay that much to put the originals back on their tables.

Kellogg SA’s Zandi Mposelwa told me this week: “We listened to their feedback on the Rice Krispies Vanilla and their desire for the Rice Krispies Original, hence we have now relaunched it.
“Because of that limited availability thus far, we are not able to gauge consumer response, but we look forward to their feedback.”

Incidentally, apart from the sugar spike and the dramatically different taste, many complained at the time of Kellogg’s switch that the packaging of the Vanilla flavoured Rice Krispies did not carry a clear warning that despite the product’s name, it contains wheat, a common allergen.
“This makes it high risk for wheat-allergic consumers,” said Cape Town-based allergen specialist Dr Harris Steinman.”
“While the original Rice Krispies also contained gluten, wheat allergic individuals need to avoid wheat, not gluten.”

At the time, Kellogg SA said wheat was “clearly and adequately” reflected in the ingredients list on the pack as well as in the allergen statement below the ingredients list.

But the company has since re-designed the box to made the words “Vanilla flavour” more prominent and include the word “wheat” on the front of the pack.

So they listened, to a point.
Moral of the story: mess with a classic product at your peril, and market research often can’t be trusted.

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