The Tribe Has Spoken
By Dan Malovany
Jennifer Hartley had never seen anything like it before. Certainly, George Weston Bakeries never saw it coming.
Shortly after launching its new Arnold Natural breads line in April, the customer service department at the Horsham, Pa.-based company was barraged by thousands of calls, letters and e-mails a day from upset and sometimes angry consumers.
They were complaining that the business had changed its Brownberry Wheat bread. It had changed the formula. And it had changed its name to Arnold. These consumers didn’t like it at all that the legendary original bread developed by Catherine Clark had been replaced with a softer, sweeter formula.
For Hartley, director of bread innovation at George Weston Bakeries, the reaction was a bit like something out of a reality show.
“We felt we made the right decision,” she says. “We couldn’t believe people cared so much as to write letters and pick up the phone. They definitely feel passionate about their bread.”
On June 11, the Midwestern classic was back on the shelves in Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Ohio, where Brownberry is sold. The packages read “Back By Request! The Original Brownberry Recipe.”
“Consumers told us this bread was part of their lifestyle, an important part of their daily routine, and for them, the new one did not stack up,” Hartley notes.
It’s not as if Weston hadn’t done its homework. In fact, in consumer tests conducted in January, a large sample of Midwesterners told the company that they preferred the new formula over the original, which they described as “too firm and too bitter.” Weston saw an opportunity to offer a new winning recipe, update the formula to increase fiber, eliminate corn syrup and sell the bread in a smaller format that’s 100 calories per slice.
However, the panel proved somewhat false. “We pride ourselves on listening to our customers, and we said regardless of the testing, we should bring the original back,” Hartley says.
In May, consumers who complained to Weston were sent coupons for the bread, along with letters explaining its decision to bring back the original.
Hartley stresses that the new Arnold Natural Wheat bread remains on shelves throughout the Northeast and Southeast, along with four other varieties that make up the line.
In the Midwest, however, Brownberry Natural consumers voted the new-and-improved variety off the shelves and named Catherine Clark’s original formula the winner of the immunity challenge. As a result, the bread returned to its original 24-oz. format, restoring the classic taste and texture, now sold under the Arnold name.
As Hartley says, “Yes, the tribe has spoken for the original Brownberry Natural Wheat recipe.”