There is no food brand that is better at coming up with new flavors than Oreo—in the United States at least. Every year since 2012, when Oreo introduced Birthday Cake flavor in celebration of a century as America’s favorite cookie, the company has gone hog-wild inventing new limited-edition flavors. The latest is inspired by Lady Gaga’s upcoming album Chromatica and has pink vanilla-flavored cookies and bright green crème filling. (It tastes like Lady Gaga, obvs.)
But who are the geniuses that come up with these wonderful cookies? The New York Times attempted a deep dive into the world of novelty Oreos. But even this formidable investigative force couldn’t get very far. Justin Parnell, the senior brand director for Oreo, said that he couldn’t even reveal the name of the novelty Oreo team. To be clear: not the names of the people on the team, the name of the team itself. The team brainstorms about 50 flavors at a time anywhere from 18 to 24 months before release, then narrows them down to a dozen or so, a process that includes consultation with chefs about flavors. (But what about the rest? Are there prototypes? Are there civilian testers? The Times did not report.)
Parnell could reveal that sales of novelty Oreos were up 12% over the past three years. Well, those numbers were substantiated by Nielsen, but it was something. Parnell added that the sales weren’t really the point of novelty Oreos, although some have done well enough to become part of the permanent Oreo lineup. As the Times reports: “They help drive consumers back to milk’s alleged favorite, the 108-year-old paterfamilias, the plain old Oreo. In other words, the new flavors function as advertisements for the original.” Which means that, according to Nielsen, sales of plain Oreos have gone up 22% in the past three years.
Team Oreo was so tight-lipped that the Times resorted to padding out the rest of its column space with lists of novelty Oreo flavors, commentary from a food and beverage analyst (did you know the pandemic has been driving people stuck at home to eat more junk food?), and fun trivia, notably that when Oreos were introduced in 1912, they were part of a variety pack of three cookies, known as the Trio. The other two parts of the Trio, the Veronese Biscuit and the Mother Goose Biscuit, did not survive the test of time. (And no, there was nothing about the Oreo’s uncanny similarity to Hydrox, which was invented first.)
If anyone knows anything about the inner workings of Team Novelty Oreo, please share your findings. We’re all ears.