Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Food Brands: Kitchen Basics Stock Sucks Now. New owners. New recipe.

Once upon a time, when it seemed like there were more hours in the day, I used to write blog posts more frequently. We also used to post to our food blog more actively. In some respects, this post might be more appropriate on the food blog, but i decided to post it on the marketing blog because it definitely raises some interesting branding questions.

Now, to set the stage for you non-cooking people in the audience, chicken broth or stock is one of these essential ingredients to making better tasting foods -- it's not just something that you buy around Thanksgiving for poultry-cooking projects. We use stock all of the time, typically when you want to add liquid to a dish during the cooking process. Ideally, you make your own stock, but the process of making stock takes several hours, so its not unusual to use the packaged varieties you find in the store. Now, the downside of most store-bought stocks and broths is that they have a ton of salt in them and that gets even worse as it reduces down and the water cooks off -- a typical cooking process that could turn into a salty mess with the wrong product.

Enter Kitchen Basics Cooking Stock, a product that we found years ago and quickly became a cornerstone of our pantry. Back in 2009, we even published this post about Kitchen Basics Stock. Also, if you search the web for chicken broth comparisons, you'll find a number of older posts that rank the Kitchen Basics Stock higher than most other broths.

So imagine my surprise when I was at the store the other day and the familiar mustard yellow package of Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock had changed color. It was still yellow, but lighter yellow now, closer to a lemon yellow color than the mustard color. Initially, my assumption was that the packaging had just undergone some aging/bleaching, but I made my usual purchase (2 cartons) and headed home.

A day or two later, my wife informed me that there seemed to be something wrong with the Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock. When she started to add it to the soup she making, she noted that the stock was different. The color was lighter and the taste had changed. She then noted, as she compared the new one to an older package that we still had, that the list of ingredients on the back was different on the new, lighter colored package. Later, as we discussed it, we searched online for some explanation.

So it turns out that in 2011, Kitchen Basics was purchased by McCormick for $38 million in an effort to grow through acquisitions. You're probably familiar with McCormick from their line of spices. It appears that, some five years since the acquisition, Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock has been reformulated. Here's the original ingredient list (note, it's still listed this way on the Kitchen Basics web site and we had actually had an older package that with this ingredient list).
Now, here's what I have for the "new" version of the stock:

You'll note the removal of the vegetable stock as the second ingredient in the new version. This appears to be what's driving the flavor change.

Now it may be that this change is fairly subtle for most people, but for us, it was like somebody replaced the ultra-plush toilet paper in your home with one of those industrial toilet papers that always make you dread going to the bathroom in places that use them. It's one of those everyday products that you use and you probably don't think much about until something changes. But for us, and probably other people that use Kitchen Basics regularly, this change marks a complete re-evaluation of the products that we're using. We're now back to looking for an off the shelf chicken stock product that we can be happy with.

What makes this even more mind-boggling from a brand aspect is, this may seem like no big deal. But you also have to understand that Kitchen Basics isn't available in every grocery store and, in many cases, we've made decisions as to which retail store to choose based on whether they stocked Kitchen Basics. In software terms, this is a fundamental change to the core stack, something that affects an entire ecosystem above it. It's now entirely possible that, whatever we find as our new chicken stock of choice, that will dictate at least one of the stores that we shop in.

Thanks McCormick. It looks like we may be done with the Kitchen Basics brand.


joneill said...

HI I know this post is old but I just found it today. Thought I was losing my mind! I had a lot of KB stock in my pantry so I hadn't noticed the change. When I went to the market- I too noticed the color change. Thought I had grabbed an unsalted one- but no "Original" was what I had. Took it home and from the minute I opened it I knew it was wrong. It looks and tastes really thin. If I want broth I would buy broth. I use(d) KB all the time. My recipes don't taste right now and it isn't because they lowered the sodium. I called the phone number on the box and a nice man told me there was a reformulation with "less carrots" . I said Why?
He mentioned something about customers wanted more protein and less salt. Ugg. I'm with you now I have to find something else to use. The change really bums me out. I know First World problems but still...:) Thanks for letting me vent.

yaMarketingGoomer said...

Thanks for reading and thanks for your comment. We still haven't found a definitive replacement for Kitchen Basics, but we have mostly stopped buying it. Of late, we've been using Costco's Kirkland Organic Chicken Stock. Like the reformulated Kitchen Basics, it is a bit more chicken flavor with a lighter color. The funny thing about the Costco product, it looks like it uses turmeric to add some yellow color to it.

I suspect that the actual driver for the reformulation on Kitchen Basics was to lower their costs. Ah well, again, thanks for commenting.