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Photo by Rachel Timlin
Out with the old (left) and in with the new (right).
Here’s something interesting: A close friend passed this photo along to us showing boxes of popsicles on store shelves in Michigan. What’s so interesting about it? It seems to show an update in packaging, from boxes that clearly show the popsicles are a Nestlé product (left) to boxes that do not prominently advertise the product as belonging to Nestlé.
Was that just coincidence that the name “Nestlé” would be removed from a product just as hundreds of thousands of Michiganders are hopping mad that the international food giant was given a permit to suck 576,000 gallons of water each day from the White Pine Springs well — for $200 a year?
Oh, and that's despite the fact that the state’s Department of Environmental Quality received more than 80,000 comments urging them to deny Nestlé permission. Only 75 comments were in favor of the permit. It probably didn’t help that Lansing ended shipments of bottled water to Flint the same week.
Taken collectively, it’s the kind of thing that leaves people disgusted with a company. Maybe not disgusted enough to organize a formal boycott, but angry enough to pass over that bottle of strawberry Nesquik, the sixer of San Pellegrino, or that box of pineapple-flavored popsicles.
Now, there have been boycotts of the food giant since the 1970s, although they appear to be more related to Nestlé’s “aggressive marketing” of breast milk substitutes
. In Canada, a social justice group called the Council of Canadians has asked people to take the boycott Nestlé pledge
But in Michigan any “boycott” is, to the best of our knowledge, informal. We shy away from Nestlé’s brands here at the newspaper mostly because we it looks unseemly for alt-weekly people to chug down Ice Mountain water or offer it to the activists who come in for an interview.
In this, we know we’re not alone. We’ve seen other people pass up Nestlé products in stores. A friend even once overheard a son scolding his mother for buying a Nestlé product.
Yes, it’s easy to set up a “Boycott Nestlé
” Facebook page, as people have done, and populate it with videos and memes. But it takes actual organizations, whether environmental groups or labor unions, to organize and enforce boycotts. That doesn’t appear to have happened here.
And yet, given the beating that Nestlé has been taking in Michigan, is it possible the food giant is somewhat less eager to have its corporate name appear on food packaging? We asked Roz O'Hearn, the PR and media relations person for all Nestlé USA brands and heard back from Ms. O'Hearn this afternoon.
"We recently redesigned the packaging to allow the Outshine brand live on its own," she told MT
. "Our new packaging design spotlights the Outshine name to recognize the people who love our products … . As you examine the packaging, you will find our Nestlé name still appears on the back of the package."
It's the kind of inoffensive, neutral-sounding answer we expected. But just to get a second opinion, we asked PR guru David Rudolph for insight.
“I could see why the company would change their packaging to promote the product over the company brand,” he told us.
He says that if Nestlé were his client and he found them determined to push ahead as they did, “the crisis manager in me would say your brand will take a beating in Michigan, and possibly the other surrounding Great Lakes states, and you might want to find a way to minimize the name recognition of key products in Michigan or anywhere else where people may be paying attention to this issue.”
But don’t food companies upgrade their packaging all the time? Isn’t this just another example of a company trying to refresh its appearance? Aren’t we possibly reading too much into the disappearance of a corporate name?
Rudolph admits we have a point, that “brand marketers are always changing product packaging for some reason or another — highlighting one thing over the over.”
That said, he goes on to point out, “A company’s name and logo is its calling card for stamping their product and connecting to the consumer who is brand loyal. So when a brand decides to minimize its name it’s a big deal.”
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