There’s power in numbers, and there have been a lot of recent examples in the food world proving that to be true. We saw it when more than 750,000 fans voted to bring back Taco Bell’s Enchirito. It was because of high demand that Olive Garden’s Never Ending Pasta Bowl returned. We were even able to band together to force McDonald’s to make Happy Meals for grown-ass adults. And if bugging these fast food chains works so well, why not try nagging the makers of our everyday groceries? A recent reformulation from Smart Balance shows that speaking up is the first step toward change.
Over the summer, Smart Balance, the dairy-free spreadable butter substitute, “tinkered” with its formula, The New York Post reported, reducing its vegetable oil content from 64% to 39%. As a result, the number one ingredient in the spread became... water.
A spokesperson from Smart Balance’s parent company, Conagra, told CBS News that the change in formulation was to make the spread more spreadable. However, CBS Moneywatch’s Aimee Picchi speculates that the move is a result of “skimpflation,” in which companies alter their products to cut costs without alerting customers to the changes. (This is not to be confused with “shrinkflation,” wherein the same product is sold in slightly smaller quantities for the same amount of money.)
Sometimes brands can get away with these subtle substitutions and swaps, but when it came to Smart Balance, people noticed.
Smart Balance loyalists immediately knew something was different about the product and flocked to the Smart Balance website to make their voices heard—as of publication, Smart Balance is ranked at 1.2 out of five stars, with 1,110 out of the 1,213 reviews rating the product one-star.
The deluge of bad reviews have astute subject lines like “Smart Balance more like Dumb Balance!” and “No Flavor Garbage,” calling the new formulation “awful,” “watery,” and “just plain dreadful.” And the reviews just keep rolling in.
Those negative comments caught Conagra’s attention. “We have heard the feedback from consumers and have decided to return to the previous recipes in the coming months,” a spokesperson from the company told Insider.
There’s not yet an exact date when customers can expect to see the original recipe back on the shelf, but the quick response from Smart Balance hints that the company’s bottom line might suffer if it doesn’t make the change sooner rather than later.
The greatest takeaway from this debacle is that we can bully these corporations into listening to us. When we like what we like, we can let brands know not only with our wallets, but with our voices, too. In the end, it’s really a compliment to these brands that there are so many fans who care so much about the products in question. We won’t stand by and passively accept a watery butter substitute, and now we’ve proven we don’t have to.