Marmite is the iconic metaphor for design.. In Tom Peter's words "Design is the principal difference between love and hate! The following article shows how polarising Marmite can be!
How regional press helped the Scots develop a taste for Marmite
Marmite is one of those food products most people either love or hate.
Launched in 1902, this strange black substance has grown in popularity
and has become something of a national institution in parts of England.
Unfortunately for Marmite, very few people in Scotland share this view.
Consumers in Scotland know very little about the brand. Market
penetration stands at barely 10 compared to around 40% in the South
Because of this relatively low usage, most Scottish consumers do not
know anyone who buys the product and they automatically assume they
won't like the taste. However, research has shown that if people are
prepared to give Marmite a try, they are often surprised by how
delicious it is.
Innovation comes in many forms and when it affects an iconic brand there must be much heartsearching before acting. The first new Marmite product for over a century came in the form of an upside down squeezy bottle. The fun and games of developing the total product and the packaging was made into a TV series.
The jar is an icon and there was much concern in the media, including Thomas Sutcliffe who wrote a long article in The Independent in response to the news... including this extract
"When it comes to consumer conservatism I don't think I can really count myself among the world's militants. Yes, I was shocked when Kit-Kat announced it was going to abandon foil wrappers for a lifeless plastic sheath, thus depriving us of the pleasure of pressing a thumbnail into the furrow and slicing a neat slit through the silver paper. But the change came and went without any noticeable blip in my already modest rates of Kit-Kat consumption. And, although in theory I cherish the idea that Radio Four begins the day with a medley of English folk tunes, in defiance of the bullying hegemony of rolling news, in practice it could have been axed years ago without me even noticing.
But I did feel a surprising jolt of resistance when I heard that Marmite plan to market a less viscous form of its product in a squeezy bottle. Judging from the wild cry of pain from my colleague Philip Hensher the other day, I wasn't the only one. As I understand it, things aren't quite as bad as he assumed. Marmite traditionalists will still be able to buy the pot-bellied glass jar and the substance they pull from it will be as gluey as ever - but even that knowledge can't quite soothe the sense of cultural affront. The squeezy bottle will be out there, adulterating the cherished Marmite gestalt.
As any Marmite lover knows, you can't separate Marmite from its jar - often literally. Chasing the concavities of that stubby container for the last scrapings of brown goo is one of the rituals of its consumption - but there will always remain a few spots, under the shoulders of the jar, which are out of reach of the knife tip. And somehow the perversity of this packaging - in a world of ergonomic logic - is oddly satisfying.
The jar delivers other pleasures too: the aromatic poke in the nose as you twist the lid off; the glossy abstractions of light on that buckled, brown sheen, misted here and there by a slick of butter. Consuming Marmite is a ceremony of extraction not extrusion.
Riding on the success of this new product, launched in 2006, the team tried again in 2007 with a limited edition recipe including the yeast from Guinness! Hence the black and white labelling. In the Independent newspaper's report on Must-have Britain: Why we are obsessed with buying the best, the latest on the Marmite-Guinness situation is reported (27th March):
Marmite people are nothing if not enthusiastic. So, when the makers of the dark brown stuff teamed up with makers of the black stuff to produce a limited edition Guinness Marmite for St Patrick's Day, there was little doubt that it would be a hit. Even the most ardent fan of the gloop, though, could not have foreseen the rapturous reception Guinness Marmite would receive. The results of the experiment (where 30 per cent of the yeast was replaced with the yeast used to make Guinness), were "inspired", and provided "a much milder, more complex taste", said the first tasters.
Unsurprisingly, the initial run of 300,000 tubs ran out within two weeks, so Marmite rushed out a further 66,000 in time for St Patrick's Day. These were, again, snapped up in a trice. Now that supermarkets have stopped supplying the stuff, punters hungry for the deep tang of stout meeting slodge have been forced on to eBay (where else?), where six-packs are changing hands for £50. But, if you can't fork out big money for the special spread, don't despair - Marmite's makers are considering repeating the experiment next year."
Being a confirmed Marmite toast fan I can confirm that when I first heard of the new product I went into my local supermarket to be told they had already sold all their stock. Yesterday I noticed a gap on the bottom shelf of the Marmite section... out of idle curiosity I stooped and saw at the back 6 jars of Marmite Guinness which I pulled to the front. Taking a jar for myself I remarked to a passing shopper- my next-door-neighbour- that there was some Marmite Guinness on the shelf only to be swamped in the rush of other shoppers as they heard and swooped... gone within 30 secs of discovery!
So the product has done well, I wonder what the risk management meetings were like as the new products impinge on all 8 sides of Design Space making it an interesting innovation to manage!
The squeezy bottle addressed many design factors including
Unmet consumer need vs. alienation of existing fans
Innovative offer for existing channels
New packaging format and materials
Call to revitalise the business
Environmental opportunities and Food regulatory environment
New manufacturing palnt and filling and packing line
Niche market that has loyal customers
But the Development and Risk Management process allowed the new products to emerge!
I'll drink to that!
Photo originally uploaded by Daveybot. Used with thanks under Creative Commons licence.