Bakers Journal

Fresh Trends: March 2010

March 9, 2010
By michelle brisebois

As we celebrate 70 years of baking in Canada, there are lessons to be learned from ideas that history would rather forget

Some ideas just aren’t meant to be – such as the baguette vending machine – but they can still teach us valuable lessons.

As we celebrate 70 years of baking in Canada, there are lessons to be learned from ideas that history would rather forget

Anniversaries are great occasions for taking stock. It’s important to look back and celebrate the wonderful successes along the way.


These trips down memory lane can be opportunities for examining challenging times, as well, for often they are the crucible in which future wins can be forged. Failure may be the original “F word,” but it’s gotten a bit of a bad rap because with each setback, the true path to victory becomes more apparent.

Babe Ruth was a homerun king in his day but he also struck out twice as frequently as the league’s average player. He took more swings, even at those balls that may have been long shots.

As in major league baseball, some of the food industry’s most dramatic strikeouts have come from the biggest players. The question is: Why did these products not succeed and what does the experience tell us as we move forward?

New Coke

It stands to reason that the most dramatic example of a challenging product introduction was executed by the largest brand in the world. In 1985, New Coke was launched to replace the established formula. This was based on extensive market research and product testing – companies of this size tend to do their homework. The public backlash was negative and quick, with some hoarding cases of old Coke like small lots of exclusive wines. Coke back-peddled within months and reintroduced the old formula (now branded Coke Classic), yanking New Coke from its shelves faster than Conan O’Brien was jettisoned from The Tonight Show host’s chair.

Post-game analysis: “We did not understand the deep emotions of so many of our customers for Coca-Cola,” said company president Donald R. Keough after deciding to reintroduce the old formula. Lesson learned: Research can only take you so far when trying to understand customer behaviour. Walk a mile in their shoes as well to truly understand not only what they think about you, but also how they feel about you.

McDonald’s Pizza:

In the late 1980s and early ’90s the pizza category was growing by leaps and bounds. McDonald’s saw a chance to capture some of this growth so it developed a pizza that could be prepared quickly. The launch required new ovens and, in some cases, widening the chain’s drive-through windows. Pizza isn’t as easily made and held as burgers and breakfast sandwiches. Product can deteriorate quickly under these conditions. The chain dropped the pizza line in the early ’90s.

Post-game analysis: Customers didn’t necessarily think of McDonald’s when it came to pizza. Operationally, it didn’t fit into the existing structure and wait times may have drifted a tad longer than customers were used to.

Lesson learned: Look for opportunities that fit well with your operational strengths and consumer expectations. Innovation is great but it’s wise to stick to your knitting, too.

McLean Deluxe

Sorry to pick on McDonald’s again, but this was a big launch. Ronald and Co. just can’t win. On one hand, people criticize Mickey D’s menu for being unhealthy, but when it finally come up with a healthy product, it just doesn’t fly! Released in 1991, the McLean Deluxe was the image of healthy: Ninety-one per cent fat free, it replaced fat with water and used seaweed extract to bind the water to the beef. Lacklustre sales caused it to be discontinued in 1994.

Post-game analysis: Maybe McDonald’s is successful because, for its customers, it falls under the heading “guilty pleasure”? Maybe bakeries fall into that same category?

Lesson learned: It’s great to know that customers want healthy options, but do they really want them from you? Let Jenny Craig worry about their waistlines – give them all the flavour they crave but play with portion sizes if you want to capture the weight-conscious market.

General Mills’ Betty Crocker Microwave Breads

In the early 1990s, it was thought that microwaves would replace the oven for all cooking – including baking. Many companies, including General Mills, launched products to target this opportunity. When consumers settled for heating leftovers and coffee, General Mills’ breads and other products for the microwave oven went down the rabbit hole.

Post-game analysis: Microwaves didn’t replace the oven – they complemented it – and nothing bakes a baked good like an oven.

Lesson learned: You never know how the consumer will incorporate technology into their lives. They might continue with their old ways alongside the new methods.

Gerber Singles

File this one under the “what were they thinking?” category: In 1974, Gerber correctly identified that the baby boomers were coming of age, starting careers and in many cases remaining single, so they launched Gerber Singles. These were small servings of food targeting single adults, packaged in jars that were almost identical to those used for baby food. Apparently, most consumers weren’t keen to eat a pureed meal out of a jar, especially one labelled “Singles” (as though they needed to be reminded of their status). The product was pulled from the marketplace shortly after it was launched.

Post-game analysis: Eating pureed food is something one typically does when wearing diapers (either early on or late in life). Nobody associates this with “good times.”

Lesson learned: Demographics are good guides as to what consumers want, but ask yourself: “Am I taking the joy out of the food item in the process?”

While these products make for amusing stories, there is a recurring theme here: Don’t just observe the consumers as a scientist would lab rats; see yourself through their eyes.

The other nugget of wisdom may be that failure is how you define it. If you learn something from a product launch that was less than stellar, then hold your head high and consider it a win. After all, good judgment comes from experience and experience often comes from . . . bad judgment.

Michelle Brisebois is a marketing professional with experience in the food, pharmaceutical and financial services industries. She specializes in helping companies grow their brands. Michelle can be reached at
On Trend Strategies by e-mail at

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