KANSAS CITY — A top trend in the food and beverage industry today is tweaking product recipes to improve nutrition or eliminate unwanted ingredients from established brands. Many such reformulations are developed in response to demand, as more consumers take to social media to request specific changes, such as the removal of aspartame or high-fructose corn syrup from carbonated soft drinks.
But what happens when a brand makes a change the consumer never wanted?
Last week, Minneapolis-based General Mills announced it had reduced the sugar in its Yoplait Original yogurts by 25%. The new recipe, now with 20 fewer calories and an additional gram of protein per 6-oz serving, was developed over three years with more than 70 General Mills employees working on a variety of product improvements. To reduce the sugar, the team added milk and changed the natural flavorings. The new Yoplait Original tastes slightly less sweet but still contains no artificial sweeteners or flavors, according to the company.
Such consumer-centric product renovation has been a key strategy at General Mills, which in the past year added more cinnamon taste to Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and removed aspartame from Yoplait Light. The company also repositioned Chex cereal as a gluten-free product, prompting double-digit growth.
However, the company may not have considered the core consumer of Yoplait Original isn’t necessarily looking for lower-sugar products. Commenters on Yoplait’s Facebook page have been vocal about the changes, many even threatening to switch brands.
“Reducing the calories doesn’t necessarily improve the product if it doesn’t taste natural. What were you thinking???”
“I've been eating a Yoplait yogurt at lunch for the last 20 years, but that is going to change.”
“The new version of Yoplait with 25% less sugar is just plain NASTY!! There wasn't one thing about it that I liked, especially the taste and texture.”
“I wish you would fix it back the way it was.”
ConAgra Foods, Inc., Omaha, faced similar ire after phasing out pop-top lids on canned Chef Boyardee pastas in 2013. A year later, the company announced the return of the easy-to-open lids after receiving strong consumer objection to the change.
“Consumer feedback has always been important to us and our fans spoke loud and clear when we removed pop-top lids,” said Mike Buick, Chef Boyardee brand director. “We’re excited to bring these easy open lids back and hope their return gives our fans one more great reason to buy Chef Boyardee.”Yoplait has offered a refundto consumers who are dissatisfied with the new recipe, and the brand's marketing manager Susan Pitt shared the following statement withFood Business News: "Many of our consumers told us that they are looking for a product with a lower level of sugar. Based on extensive consumer testing, we are confident in the taste of our reduced sugar Yoplait Original. We have received feedback from a very small number of consumers, and we are committed to the sugar reduction in our Yoplait Original products."