I was sitting in seat 13A on United Airlines Flight 127, en route to California last month, and sitting in 13B beside me was a friendly young woman named Lora. I was headed to Anaheim to present some workshops at the Future Business Leaders of America National Conference. Lora was headed back to Chicago, where she worked for Kraft Foods, so naturally, we got chatting about business.
Before long, our conversation turned to Oreos. Yes, Oreos. For her, cookies ARE business. Lora shared with me an interesting challenge that Kraft faces: Canadians and Americans like different flavours of Oreos. She didn’t say what, exactly, was different – the chocolaty biscuit, the gooey white sandwich cream, or whatever other magical parts there might be – but the two countries have different recipes. From a business point of view, this is a big cost to Kraft. It requires double machinery to prepare different cookies, and try as they might, Kraft could not get people’s tastes to change, nor could they find an Oreo that satisfied both groups!
And this got me thinking: Would we be better off if everyone liked the same flavour of Oreos? Kraft would make more money, but as a society, I mean, would we be farther ahead? Or, is there value to having two different types of Oreos for two different groups of people? Maybe Canada’s uniquely flavoured Oreos are part of what helps define the uniquely Canadian identity?
I remembered learning that Coca-cola is in the same situation - the concentrated syrup is sold to bottling franchises around the world, and sweeteners and water are added to fit the local palate, so Coke in Costa Rica is different than Coke in Kenya. I wonder if it would be better if everyone liked the same Coca-cola.
But would it? I mean, anyone who has ever travelled knows that a big part of the joy is that you experience some of the incredible diversity the world offers us! On the other hand, there’s value in knowing that if I order a Big Mac in Bangkok, I know I’m getting the same thing as in New York. But even McDonalds, the epitome of efficiency and standardized food, has customized menus in different geographies. From the vegetarian McAlootiki in India to the Ebi-Chiki shrimp nuggets in seafood-loving Japan, McDonalds has chosen to cater to local tastes, resources, and customs. Would we be better off if we just convinced everyone to like Big Macs the way we eat them in North America? Isn’t “our” way the “real” way?
And what about beyond food preferences? What about clothing styles? Or games? Or ideas? Or sexualities? Or religions? Would we be better off just to standardize everything in the name of efficiency and conformity?
I don’t know - maybe I’m over-thinking this whole Oreo thing. But on the other hand, maybe most people are under-thinking it.
July 20, 2009
I've never felt like I was in the cookie business. I've always been in a feel good feeling business. My job is to sell joy. My job is to sell happiness. My job is to sell an experience."
Founder, Mrs. Fields Bakeries
Joel Hilchey speaks and facilitates workshops across North America, empowering students, educators & business leaders who want to build stronger, more positive teams and communities. Contact him by phone at 1-877-487-5635 or check him out online at www.joelhilchey.com!
RIDDLE: I'm tall, white and cool and I'm healthy for you. When the cookies come out, many want me there too! What am I?