So we might be intrepid market researchers here at MMR – but first and foremost we’re consumers and food lovers, with our everyday foibles and foodie obsessions.
My obsession is nuts. I was brought up on a steady diet of nuts in a nut loving family. My
thought process when trying to choose a chocolate bar tends to go something
like a) Does it have nuts in b) How many nuts does it have and C) What
chocolate can I buy that has even more nuts in.
A nutter (pun intended!) such as myself was always going to
greet the news that Nestle is launching a Walnut Whip without any nuts
with horror, confusion and a certain degree of fear (is this the beginning of a
slippery slope where all my nutty snacks will get gradually taken away?)
However, as a market researcher who thinks about trends, new
products and reformulations on a daily basis, this has really got my brain
whirring. Nestle are positioning this as meeting a consumer need –
creating a Walnut Whip for people who don’t like nuts (can't find any information about whether they're safe for people who can't eat nuts). They’ve also tried to reassure us that these are additional SKUs
and that the iconic Walnut Whip will still be available in individual servings.
Nevertheless, it seems rather clear that this
reformulation has come after a rise in commodity prices of 20% - a challenge
that’ll be familiar to product developers and researchers the world over, in a
time of falling currencies and frequently poor crop production.
Walnut Whips are so unique and iconic, and key to any product is its sensory branding – a neatly aligned combination
of packaging, brand identity and crucially the product experience. As our
sensory experts can tell you, removal of the walnuts in a walnut whip can’t
help but undermine the consumer product journey – not only in terms of the
taste, but the texture (the contrast between the crisp walnut and soft whip
being one of the product’s most tangible sensory assets). A better approach might have been experimenting with different nuts.
The development of these nut-free Walnut Whip SKUs might
well be meeting the needs of a small minority of consumers. But I 'd ask, at
what cost? The confectionery market is one that has been hit hard by
reformulations and downsizings of late, with widespread outcry at the
bigger gaps in our
beloved Toblerone and smaller pack sizes across the board. This feels
like another blow to consumers who are losing trust in big brands.
Rosie Proudlove is a Research Manager at MMR.