Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Food changes

I like to know that when I make food that it will have the same taste and texture 100% of the time. That is how I know something is done right.

I don't know if you have ever experienced this, but I can taste subtle differences in both taste and texture. I am every food company's worst nightmare - from cereal to ice cream to even rice. Don't mess with my choice in rice.

Which is exactly what Uncle Ben's recently did. In fact, there was no warning that it was "New and Improved" - they simply changed it. And for the worse. See, I like their Fast-Cook (5 minute) Long-Grain and Wild Rice with Chicken Kiev (and I'm kind of picky about that too). However, a couple weeks ago I had some and it tasted terrible. Of course I'm not one to judge instantly - I gave them a second chance before deciding to contact the company. The taste was awful. The texture was terrible. And it didn't absorb the butter sauce of the Chicken Kiev like it used to.

Actually, I am pretty sure that they changed it twice. The first time, the texture changed. It seemed to get more grainy/gritty. This latest change, however, affected the color of the rice along with its texture and flavour. It was enough to make a person gag.

I have a pretty good idea of why the changes took place. Someone in upper management, who has no taste buds, decided that to save $100,000 per year and keep the price of the product the same, chose to alter the recipe and reduce the more "expensive" amounts. Whoever the putz is that decided to do that should be immediately fired, the recipe restored, and product recalled. Not to mention, a public apology on the website.

This is why making product changes to reduce tangible costs, whether it be food or software, can actually increase overall costs. The intangible costs of Uncle Ben's reduction in tangible costs are probably in the billions. The one food item I ever bought from them now tastes terrible and I'm actually considering hunting around for another brand. In other words, they have basically lost a loyal customer to their competition.

What is really absurd is that there was no warning that this was "New and Improved!" No labels at all, just several fundamental changes to the contents of the box. My only guess is that the advertising department couldn't think of how to word "Now Tastes Worse than Ever Before!" and just left the box as-is and hoped no one would notice. Yeah right. I'm a food connoisseur - I know good food when I eat it. I am every food company's worst nightmare because I am also aware that if something changes for the worse, I can complain directly to the company via e-mail and it will get read by people who will forward it to the right people (occasionally I even get the CEO's attention).

I'm more than willing to taste test food items for companies - all they have to do is ask to set up a session and pay me for access to my refined tastebuds. I even usually have ideas for products...and, if I don't think of anything right away, handing me a business card is a smart business decision. The same thing applies to software products - or almost any product in general. I'm fairly opinionated, but I am open to changes that make sense. I can tell you if it makes sense or not. If it makes sense to me, then it is probably a good change and I will adapt to accept the change. This is my flavor of "usability testing". I address what usability testing is in my new e-book entitled Safe C++ Design Principles:

http://www.cubiclesoft.com/SafeCPPDesign/

That particular chapter of the book can even be applied to the food industry. Not just software. Many of the principles found in the book are actually applicable to many different industries...not just the C++ programming language.

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