Fonterra’s introduction of the new light proof Anchor milk bottles and the subsequent backlash from its customers, who complain the new design prevents them from seeing how much milk is left in the container, raises some interesting questions.
In a New Zealand Herald poll this week asking people what they thought of the new bottles, 78% of over the 16,600 respondents said the bottles were a waste of time and that the old containers were fine. Only 13% said they thought the new bottles were innovative and they loved them, while 9% said they would still use the bottles even though they were sceptical of Fonterra’s claims.
However, despite the outcry, it seems Anchor customers continue to display incredible loyalty towards the brand.
We know this because if people didn’t care about the brand, they would just simply switch to a different product that still has transparent bottles, instead of spending their energy decrying the changes.
Also, Fonterra’s response indicates that, in spite of the flack it has been getting, the issue is not yet hurting sales. In fact, the company claims sales have increased since the launch of the new bottles.
Indeed, Fonterra has stuck to its guns throughout the storm. It has been very consistent in driving the same message about the light-proof bottles since the new design was launched in March.
Its response to the criticism over the reduced usability of the bottles has been to reinforce the positives of the new design.
In essence, Fonterra’s message is that exposure to light degrades the quality and hence the taste of the milk. Since the new bottles block out all light, Fonterra states the milk stays fresh longer and tastes better – a claim it says is supported by the majority of those who have tasted milk from the new containers.
Basically what it is saying is: “Trust us, this is better for you and soon you will see the light (or lack thereof) and thank us.”
Holding the line on the issue is admirable, but how long can Fonterra count on people’s seeming trust in and loyalty to the Anchor brand?
At what point will it be seen as being foolhardy, arrogant and unresponsive to customers’ needs?
Recent history is littered with examples of big brands overstepping the trust and loyalty of their customers.
Cadbury suffered severe backlash in 2009 when it reduced the size of its chocolate blocks by 50g and swapped cocoa butter with vegetable fat, including palm oil. As a result, it lost its title as New Zealand’s most trusted brand in the 2010 Reader’s Digest Trust Survey. It had held the position for the previous six years, but plummeted all the way down to 36th place in the 2010 survey.
At the time, the company acknowledged it would take years to rebuild consumer trust in New Zealand.
In 2011, Telecom narrowly averted disaster by hurriedly burying its ‘Abstain for the Game’ campaign before it even saw the light of day, apart from a few leaked ads, like this one with the pink fist-mobile:
Adidas meanwhile weathered the storm over the New Zealand pricing for its All Blacks jerseys before the 2011 World Cup. It never did back down and despite all the outrage at the time, this incident is now hardly ever mentioned.
So clearly Fonterra finds itself in a difficult position. Does it push on or backtrack?
Changing to the new packaging could not have been cheap; not to mention the cost so far of promoting and defending the new bottles.
But the fact that it is not yet buckling under the pressure from unhappy customers, or parody for satirists, must show that despite the protests enough people are still buying Anchor for Fonterra not to be unduly concerned.
But the issue is not going away just yet and Fonterra’s fortunes may yet change. Only time will tell if, in the long run, Anchor users will swallow their pride and adapt, or if this episode will leave a permanent sour taste in their mouths.