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Annals of Marketing
How Do You Tell Customers You are Changing the Recipe?
Monday, 13th August, 2012  - David Farmer

We are creatures of habit and do not like change. Yet we are aware that change is one of life's constants. It is the handling of this contradiction which is the role of marketing. From the aspiring political party to the maker of consumable goods, convincing the user that change is good requires a deft hand.

Marketing is then itself a contradiction as while it has the important role of assuring customers that the product never varies and is made to exactly the same recipe each time, thus providing stability; at another time it may have to explain to this same customer that a change is required and this is good for them.

To market a change is no easy task and this path is strewn with failed attempts. Perhaps the most enthralling epic ever was the launch of the New Coke in 1985 which met with a strong back-lash. Management stood firm for 79 days before caving in.

Mid last year the Twinings tea company altered the taste of its famous Earl Grey tea. Naturally for a product introduced in 1831 uproar ensured and social media went to work.

Zosia Bielski of the Globe and Mail Blog takes up the story in 'Hands off my cuppa: Britons bitter over Twinings' new Earl Grey'; August30th, 2011: "Horrid", "vile" and "an affront to tea" are just some of the descriptives in a public shaming thatís reached fever pitch in recent days. Tea drinkers are complaining that the new Earl Grey has an artificial lemon taste. They liken it to "foul-tasting dishwater", "diluted toilet cleaner", "wishy washy potpourri", as well as Fairy, the ubiquitous British dish soap.

"If I want lemon zest in my tea, I will add it myself," commenter Yasmin Stonebanks wrote on the company website. Another politely suggested the new blend be called "the restrictive Earl Grey" since it is "positively unpleasant with milk and lightweight without milk."

The worst seems to be over for Twinings though a few hard core dissidents are still posting remarks and the original is still for sale on the company U.K. web-site. The two Earl Greys are discussed as follows:

The Original called 'Earl Grey Classic'

"The story goes that Earl Grey, the Georgian prime minister, was given cases of this tea by a Chinese Mandarin. He liked it so much he brought it home and asked Twinings to recreate it for him. And that's what we've been doing ever since.

"Light, fragrant and with a distinctive bergamot flavour, our Earl Grey still has all the taste of the original. And we like to think it's still the best."

The New version called 'The Earl Grey'

"The story goes that Earl Grey, the Georgian prime minister, was given cases of this tea by a Chinese Mandarin. He liked it so much he brought it home and asked Twinings to recreate it for him.

"Light, fragrant and with a distinctive bergamot and lemon flavour, our Earl Grey still has all the taste of the original, and we like to think it's still the best."

The only difference in the copy is; 'And that's what we've been doing ever since', and one tiny word, lemon.

What did astonish me was to find there are 12 different Earl Grey teas. Not changes in pack types but a dozen different blends such as Sunshine Grey, Jasmine Grey, Rose Grey and nine others. This seems to me a grievous error as to line extend Earl Grey into flavours already covered by Twinings is fraught with danger.

If they have upset the hard core drinkers with the change in taste of the original what on earth might happen by expanding the core idea so far away from the original. Thinking about that makes me want to have a cuppa and a lie down.

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