business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

“How could you do such a thing!?!”

“They are horrible – I threw mine to the birds. The birds threw them back!”

“This is what you have done: Changed square to round, changed flavorful to tasteless, changed fresh to stale, diminished the amount of crackers while charging the same price.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Bottom line, you should be ashamed of yourselves.”

“What the h**l is next, a square Ritz?”

The above postings are among the calmer, G-rated reactions to Nabisco’s four-month test marketing of revised, round Original Premium Saltine crackers in New England and New York. The iconic, square Original Premium Saltine neatly stacked in its sealed sleeves (four to a box) was jettisoned for a single bag of round, crumbly counterfeits.

The cracker-noshing public in this part of the country is not pleased. The comedian Dave Hill posted a rant online with language salty enough to make a longshoreman blush. MNB reader Darrell Allen shared his incredulity at the moronic makeover with us in much saner terms. Others took to Twitter and multiple blogs such as

Trust me, the change didn’t fly in my household, either. I attempted to slip the round Saltines (along with Campbell’s Chicken Noodle soup and Schweppes Ginger Ale – the official sick tray meal in our home) past a 17-year-old with pneumonia and her response was one of disbelief. “Ugh. Why did they ruin Saltines?”

Which makes one wonder why anyone in the food/retail/marketing business old enough to remember the New Coke debacle would attempt this. By changing the shape, consistency and packaging, Nabisco managed to offend consumers on several fronts, from aesthetics to price point.

Though it’s just a simple cracker, there are several lessons here:

People can be passionate about products, especially those they grew up with that have resonance beyond taste: Devotees posted particulars about the use of their Saltine crumbled in soup, topped with a square piece of cheese, dabbed with a dollop of peanut butter, dunked in a glass of milk or crushed for crust. The cupboard staple is also hailed as a cure for morning sickness, upset stomachs and hangovers.

Older consumers also vent on the internet: To those who think only tech-savvy younger consumers make their opinions known online, think again. Many of the posts were from older consumers who wrote about eating Premium Saltines for 60 plus years and politely expressing their dismay with the change.

Packaging matters: Premium fans lamented the loss of the plastic sleeve, which they either shared or factored into their cracker/calorie consumption. The sleeve also counted big time for freshness.

Price, price, price: The blog Dave’s Cupboard and others noted the new packages are 10.5-ounce net weight compared to the old ones at 16 ounces, but the price remains $2.49 a box.

So what’s the Kraft/Nabisco take on this? Company spokesman Basil T. Maglaris told MNB yesterday the company had “tested the idea of round Premium Saltines” in the New York metro/New England area. In a previous interview with the website, Maglaris said the changes were designed to present Saltines in a “relevant and contemporary way.” He recommended customers contact the company’s hotline at 1-800-NABISCO with comments, and said, “We really do want to know what people think.”

I’d say the people have spoken, and when it comes to Saltines, it’s hip to be square.

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