What's different about the two packages in the photo below?
Hardly anything. Well, except that the definition of "al dente perfection" sort of changed.
Basically, this is a case of a food company deciding, for whatever reason, to change the look and feel of their packaging.
We'll ask why they did this in a moment. But for now, consider how odd it is that Barilla draws absolutely no attention to the change. There's no "New Label!" or "Now with a new look!"-type message on the box. It's likely, therefore, that most customers will never notice the difference. (Heck, if it weren't for the fact that I was making a double batch of Citrus Orzo Salad and needed extra orzo, I'd have never noticed either.)
Okay. We have a stealth package redesign, a new box that quite frankly doesn't look any better than the old box, and an obviously unchanged product inside. All of which leads us to an existential question that I shout at the top of my lungs every time I see pointless changes like this:
Seriously, why bother? Why change the box? What was wrong with the old packaging (the box on the left) and what's so great about the packaging of the new box? What's the point?
I can think of a few reasons. Perhaps Barilla is running split-testing for their next product redesign. Perhaps they want to test a few versions out on the market before choosing. And who knows, maybe one of their designs will result in a spike in sales.
That's great for Barilla if it works. But all this takes us to our last question: Who bears the cost of this packaging change?
Yup. It's the same people who ultimately bear the costs of advertising, marketing, and all the other expenses companies incur to try to get us to buy their stuff. We do. We consumers ultimately pay for all marketing techniques, ads, redesigns, product reformulations, and any other attempts by companies to convince us their product is new, different and better. These costs are passed right on through to us.
Here's where long-time CK readers start to nod their heads--and where newer readers here should start to rethink the value of many of the standard marketing techniques and traditions of the consumer products industry.
Which brings us to yet another reason why we can't be passive consumers in the grocery store. Remember, it's the zombies who get separated from their money. Intelligent consumers must use other cues, including quality, price and our own personal preferences to make the best buying decisions.
And that's why I want my readers to look at packaging redesigns just as they look at advertising. They are both sources of incremental costs, and they should be seen as destroyers of value for consumers.
Which is why when you see a new package or a new look in a product you typically buy, check the price right away.
If a food company can regularly change up their packaging and still keep their price below competitors' prices, by all means keep supporting that product. Or, if you're totally ecstatic with the quality of that product regardless of the price, again, by all means keep buying.
However, if you ever see an item that:
1) Tries to dress itself up as up-market or aspirational,
2) Raises prices without a commensurate increase in quality, or
3) Sneaks a stealth price hike past customers in the form of a smaller product volume or weight...
...drop that brand immediately. Don't waste time with ineffective and effete actions like grumbling or complaining. Instead, take action and quit buying. Find a substitute made by a company that doesn't presume that you're a passive, mindless consumer.
Force companies to compete for your business by offering value, not by offering a prettier box.
Readers, how do you think about this issue?
How to Defeat the Retail Industry's Ninja Mind Tricks
Can You Resist $107 Worth of Advertising?
Where Going Generic Works... And Where It Doesn't
On Spice Fade, And the Utter Insanity of Throwing Spices Out After Six Months
How to Own the Consumer Products Industry--And I Mean Literally Own It
Companies vs. Consumers: A Manifesto
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