If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it


Recently a new range of Arnott’s Shapes biscuits hit the shelves in supermarkets around Australia. The Shapes packaging looks almost identical except for the small, but very important, addition of the words ‘new and improved.’ An Arnott’s spokesperson stated “the main goal of this project was on achieving more flavour and more authentic flavours,” if Arnott’s were to deliver on this promise they would surely have won themselves another generation of consumers that will snack on Shapes throughout their school years and in to adult life.

The stated goal of enhancing the flavour of Shapes appears to have failed as there is currently an uprising occurring across various social media platforms against the new product. This would suggest that somewhere between the initial market research, the product development and the launch of the new product that the Arnott’s marketing team have made a slight miscalculation of the love that Australians have for their favourite Shapes flavour.


The initial marketing research that was performed told the Arnott’s marketing team that consumers wanted a change, but what information was used to get to this conclusion? There are many ways that the marketing team responsible could have collected incorrect information. The use of secondary information sources saying ‘consumers want more flavour’ can’t be ruled out, but given Arnott’s strong brand history we will assume that primary data was collected and used in this instance. So how did Arnott’s gather this information?  Primary data can be collected in number of ways, including, surveys, focus groups, observations, interviews and experiments. One of the key tasks that Arnott’s may have failed on is the selection of the correct demographic to provide data for their research. Regardless of the exact primary source Arnott’s used, if the data collected was from the wrong target market the resulting information isn’t going to lead to optimal decision-making. Studies have shown “The deeper the level of involvement with the product, the better the insights customers will be able to offer about their usage of the product.” (Eskanzi, J. 2011) This suggests that not only is selecting the correct target market critical it is also important to ensure participants have some level of brand familiarity and a history of purchasing the product.

Arnott’s have responded by saying the new Shapes biscuits have been “tested and trialled extensively”, given the consumer feedback received it appears that their ‘testing’ has also been ineffective. The methods used to trial the new recipes would likely have been blind taste testing and possibly a focus group to discuss the new products. There are number of areas in focus group design that can lead to suboptimal results being achieved. One issue that can arise is due to moderator bias, this could have occurred during the product testing phase at Arnott’s. It can be caused by the “moderator’s facial expressions, body language, tone, manner of dress, and style of language may introduce bias. The moderator’s age, social status, race, and gender are also factors.” FocusGroupTips.com. Another possible problem in Arnott’s case could have been the phenomenon known as Groupthink, this occurs when a group strives for consensus rather allowing individuals to have their own opinions voiced. This can be minimised by ensuring all participants are able to speak honestly and openly about their experience with the product or alternatively conducting interviews on a one on one basis.

Another concern that has been raised by Shapes aficionados is that the old versions of some of the flavours of Shapes have been discontinued immediately. Arnott’s have tried to push consumers to the new product by removing their beloved originals from the shelves. This could have been managed differently by the Arnott’s marketing team, by giving customers a ‘change-over period’ to make the switch to the new version. This is another example of poor market research related to the introduction of the new product.

This is not the first time a large food manufacturer has failed spectacularly when launching a new product, as stated by Mark Smith in Menu Innovations “Changing a signature recipe is a dangerous proposition because there’s risk involved.” One of the first public change of recipe disasters was the introduction of ‘New Coke’ for only 3 months in 1985. In Australia, most people remember the unsuccessful launch of the new vegemite and its continued unpopularity with the public. http://www.smh.com.au/technology/its-official-isnack-20-declared-an-epic-fail-20090930-gc2s.html.

There is likely still more to come on this saga, so before we are too critical on Arnott’s we need to wait and see what their next move is on the ‘new and improved’ Shapes. After all this may just be an elaborate marketing ploy to increase sales of the old Shapes by caving to public pressure and giving the people what they want.


  1. Brown, V & Sullivan, R. (2016). Arnott’s changes recipe for Shapes range, and customers are not happy. News.com.au. http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/food/eat/arnotts-changes-recipe-for-shapes-range-and-customers-are-not-happy/news-story/81f99423f3620c8f0d96d09cab276138. Accessed 14 April 2016.
  2. Eskanzi, J. (2011). UX Magazine. How to Fix the 5 Most Common Mistakes with Focus Groups, Addressing Fundamental Problems with Focus Groups. Article 671. https://uxmag.com/articles/how-to-fix-the-5-most-common-mistakes-with-focus-groups. Accessed 15 April 2016.
  3. FocusGroupTips.com. (2012). What is Bias in Qualitative Research. http://www.focusgrouptips.com/qualitative-research.html. Accessed 17 April 2016.
  4. Smith, D. (2010). Signature Reinvention. Menu Innovations. QRS. https://www.qsrmagazine.com/menu-innovations/signature-reinvention. Accessed 15 April 2016.

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