Uh-Oh Again

Let’s start the week with a quick follow-up to an earlier post. Partly inspired by the Android Oreo discussion back in August, Jackie took a chance on “Mystery Oreos”.

I bow to her bravery. I’m a fairly adventurous eater, but I wouldn’t have dared try something even the manufacturer can’t–or won’t–identify.

She reports that they taste like Circus Peanut candies.

This is not a good thing. There’s a reason Circus Peanuts are a niche product, after all. (The niche seems to be “people who were traumatized by them as children feeding them to their kids”. Who says abuse isn’t a learned behavior?)

If anyone wants to take the rest of the package off Jackie’s hands, drop by her blog and leave her a note. Odds are, she’ll be happy to send them to you.

Does Nabisco really need to wander into the wilds this way? I think not. Granted, their parent corporation, Mondelez, cut about 9% of its workforce last year, but the layoffs weren’t because the company is in any trouble; according to the Chicago Tribune, they were part of ongoing cost-cutting measures.

And Oreos are doing just fine in the marketplace. According to Statista, Oreos are the top selling cookie in the U.S. after “Private Label”.

I’ll pause here to allow you to contemplate the nature of a “generic cookie”.

And no, that’s not a combined figure for the approximately ninety-eleven varieties of Oreo. That’s for Oreos, plain and simple. Note that the chart also has Oreo Double Stuff as a solid Number Four.

All those flavors? Window dressing and loss leader. Based on those sales figures, I can only assume that people are buying small packages of “Oreos Weird Flavr” and then following that with a big bag of “Oreos For Reals” to get rid of the taste of the officially-sanctioned imposter.

If so, a clever move on Nabisco’s part, but it can’t last. Sooner or later, they’re going to run out of vaguely plausible flavors, and we’re going to start seeing Sriracha Oreos, Bacon and Eggs Oreos*, and eventually Salmon and Toothpaste Oreos.

* All artificial flavors, so the cookies can remain kosher and vegetarian-friendly. (Note: Oreos can be cross-contaminated with milk. This is not, apparently, sufficient to impair their kosher standing, but it is enough to render them unfit for vegans.) The latest word on which varieties of Oreos are kosher may be found here.

What comes after that? Well, Nabisco will get a certain amount of press for the lawsuits over the Arsenic and Old Lace Oreos (“Now with even more lace!”), and we all know no publicity is bad publicity. But even that will only get them so far.

I don’t have a solution here–there’s a reason I’m not working in advertising–but Nabisco needs to come up with something.

Hopefully it’ll come before the world is introduced to Cuyahoga River Oreos.

Uh-Oh! Oreo

The new flavor of Android is “Oreo”. I have mixed feelings about this.

Not because it’s a corporate tie-in. You may recall that I was in favor of Android Kit-Kat. And let’s be real here: Android itself is a corporate offering; it’s not like a little message cross-promotion is diluting some kind of ideological purity.

Nor is it because I dislike Oreos. Quite the contrary, in fact.

The problem is that I’m not sure what an Oreo is these days–and neither is Nabisco. Really. Have you looked at the cookie aisle of your local supermarket these days? Here’s mine:

Go ahead and click the image to see it full-sized. Soak yourself in the knowledge that there are now at least 21 varieties of Oreo. Yeah, I counted. (In case you can’t read the labels, even in the large image, they are:

  1. Heads or Tails Double Stuf
  2. Oreo Chocolate Creme
  3. Oreo Peanut Butter
  4. Oreo Mint
  5. Oreo Thins Lemon
  6. Oreo Thins Golden
  7. Oreo Thins
  8. Oreo Thins Chocolate
  9. Oreo Thins Mint
  10. Oreo Thins Coconut
  11. Oreo Golden Double Stuf
  12. Oreo Golden Birthday Cake
  13. Oreo Birthday Cake
  14. Cinnamon Bun Oreo
  15. Red Velvet Oreo
  16. Oreo Mega Stuf
  17. Oreo Golden Lemon
  18. Oreo Reduced Fat
  19. Oreo (aka “Milk’s Favorite Cookie”)
  20. Oreo Golden
  21. Oreo Double Stuff

The bottom shelf is larger packages of the same things that are on the higher shelves.)

And you know what? They don’t taste like Oreos.

Maggie and I did a little taste test.

Cinnamon Bun Oreos do not taste like any cinnamon bun I’ve ever eaten–and I’ve had some bad ones. That’s not to say these are bad cookies. There is a slight bitter aftertaste, and the cinnamon is partly artificial (the ingredient list includes both “cinnamon” and “artificial flavors”). But for a cheap, cinnamon-flavored cookie, they’re not bad. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, but it’s really the best I can say for these things.

Then there are the Red Velvet Oreos with their “Cream Cheese Flavored Creme”. The creme does not taste like cream cheese. Neither one of us could decide what it does taste like (other than sugar), but it’s not cream cheese. I’ll give them this: these cookies taste more like red velvet cake than the cinnamon bun cookies taste like cinnamon buns. And I’d be more likely to buy these again. Especially if they dropped the Oreo branding.

In an earlier, independent tasting, Maggie had some Key Lime Pie Oreos, which are not currently available in our local store. She reports that the somewhat-graham-cracker-crust-like cookies were reasonably successful, and the creme did taste sort of lime-like.

I haven’t tried any of the “Golden” cookies, and frankly, I don’t plan to. That’s just too far off-message.

Look, I’m old enough to remember when Double Stuf Oreos were introduced–I was nine–and I thought that was pretty darn neat. Even today, when I’ve decided that the original version has just the right balance of cookie to filling, I don’t have any problem with Double Stuf, or even, God help us, Mega Stuf, because they still have the pseudo-chocolatish cookie paired with the faintly vanilla filling that defines an Oreo.

As I said earlier, if they weren’t branded as “Oreo,” I might buy more of the red velvet cookies, and Maggie had a similar reaction to the key lime pie variant.

The name “Oreo” conjures up a very specific taste memory–and let’s not forget that psychologists say that scent/taste memories are among the strongest and longest lasting. By labeling these randomly-flavored items with that name, Nabisco is fighting with customers’ expectations. It’s an uphill battle that probably can’t be won.

Instead, Oreo is diluting their brand to little effect and fragmenting their own market.

Which, come to think of it, is exactly where Android stands. With thirteen flavors of Android in the market (“Cupcake” through “Oreo”), each of which has been re-skinned and reworked by hardware manufacturers and wireless carriers, there are almost as many varieties of Android on the shelves as there are of Oreos.

Is that really the image Google wants Android to present?