food

Kraft Quietly Changed Mac & Cheese; Consumers Didn't Notice

In what Kraft Heinz is calling “the world’s largest blind taste test,” the company removed artificial flavors, preservatives and dyes from its blue box macaroni and cheese three months ago, distributed the reformulated product in stores, and sold more than 50 million boxes before promoting the changes. 

Back in April 2015, Kraft did announce that it was planning to remove the ingredients by January 2016. 

Not only had parents lobbied for the changes (including through a Change.org petition), but Kraft Heinz -- like other major food companies -- recognizes that the future of many legacy brands hinges on “free from” reformulations to attract younger generations. In recent years, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese had begun to lose business to “clean” competitors such as Annie’s Homegrown, which was acquired by General Mills in 2014.

At the same time, any tampering with one of a company’s largest and most iconic brands is always fraught with the risk of alienating a huge existing customer base. Last April’s announcement generated many an angst-ridden post from the brand’s diehard fans.  

The reformulated mac and cheese hit the shelves this past December, but aside from changing the ingredients list on the box, the brand had remained mum till now. 

Now, it’s launching a major campaign with a dual purpose: To tell existing (and lapsed) fans that the new recipe is a done deal, and it’s indistinguishable from the classic one; and to win over a new generation of loyal customers.  

“As we considered changing the ingredients of our classic blue box, we did so knowing we had to maintain our iconic look, taste and texture,” said Greg Guidotti, VP of meals at Kraft Heinz, in the news release. “We’d invite Americans to try our new recipe, but they most likely already have.”

The campaign, “It’s changed. But it hasn’t,” includes 60-, 30- and 15-second TV ads featuring Craig Kilborn, former host of “The Daily Show” and “The Late, Late Show.” The spots are being aired on key morning, primetime and sports shows, including the NCAA tournament.

The creative, from Crispin Porter & Bogusky, has Kilborn pointing out that none of the millions of people who have tasted the revamped product in the last few months have noticed the change — including moms, kids, dogs, “this person named Bill,” Millennials and miscellaneous others. 

The brand is also running ads in celebrity, entertainment shelter and other magazines, and will be giving away product samples and branded items such as T-shirts and macaroni-shaped body pillows.  

Fans are being encouraged to share about the new recipe on the brand’s Twitter and Facebook pages, using #didntnotice.

Last month, Kraft Heinz told investors that it will up its U.S. “working media” investment by $50 million to support lines including the reformulated mac and cheese and the recently launched Capri Sun Organic.

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