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BRADENTON, Fla., NEW YORK and FRANCE -- The PepsiCo Americas Beverages division of PepsiCo learned the value of the Internet as a market research tool.
Customer complaints that came largely in the form of blogs and e-mail regarding a new carton design for its flagship Tropicana Pure Premium orange juice were so strong, the company pulled the plug on it and is reverting back to the old packaging next month.
"We heard our consumers and we listened," Jamie Stein, a Tropicana spokeswoman, was quoted stating in The Bradenton Herald. "We appreciate their love and passion for Tropicana and when they told us they missed the look of 'their Tropicana' that said to them premium, natural and squeezed from fresh oranges. We responded and we're bringing back the original."
In March, Tropicana will bring back cartons with the familiar design of a straw stuck into an orange.
Tropicana Pure Premium's new orange juice cartons, which hit store shelves in January, displayed a simple photograph of a full glass of orange juice set against a white background.
One aspect of the new Tropicana packaging is being salvaged: plastic caps for the cartons shaped and colored like oranges. According to a company spokesperson who was quoted recently in The New York Times, those caps will be used for cartons of Trop 50, a variety of Tropicana with less sugar and calories that is to be introduced soon.
It was also reported in The New York Times that some of those commenting described the new packaging as "ugly" or "stupid," and resembling "a generic bargain brand" or a "store brand."
"Do any of these package-design people actually shop for orange juice?" the writer of one e-mail message asked rhetorically. "Because I do, and the new cartons stink."
Others described the redesign as making it more difficult to distinguish among the varieties of Tropicana or differentiate Tropicana from other orange juices.
Such attention is becoming increasingly common as interactive technologies enable consumers to rapidly convey opinions to marketers, according to The New York Times.
"You used to wait to go to the water cooler or a cocktail party to talk over something," said Richard Laermer, chief executive at RLM Public Relations in New York.
"Now, every minute is a cocktail party," he added. "You write an e-mail and in an hour, you’ve got a fan base agreeing with you."
The problem though, is "disproportional voting," according to Mike Stones, a reporter for Decision New Media, based in France, who recently wrote an opinion column on the subject for Nutraingredients.com.
He said with the vast potential of social media tools also comes a threat that a disproportionately small number of consumers can now have a disproportionately large impact on a food or beverage product’s profile and its commercial success.
"For every consumer who hated the new Tropicana carton, there may have been thousands who liked it or had no view on the matter," he wrote. "So why incur the massive expense of a packaging U-turn on such flimsy evidence? Unhappy consumers are, by nature, more vocal than happy ones. Just because a vociferous minority assert something to be true does not mean that it is true."