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A few days ago, when passing through Heathrow Terminal 3, I bought a Rainbow Fruit Salad from Eat, the ready-to-eat food retailer. (Anything to avoid eating the swill that is routinely served on airlines, nomatter how many ‘celebrity’ chefs they employ.) On the packaging the product description read: mango, kiwi, blueberries and pomegranate seeds. I happily ate my way through the larger chunks of fruit – mango and kiwi, which were at the top of the container and examined what was left. There was a scattering of pomegranate and, among the red seeds, some blueberries.
Three of them.
That’s right: three blueberries. Now, as a commodity, blueberries are relatively expensive in the UK. Despite their popularity with Waitrose mums who value the fruit’s antioxidant properties when feeding their darling offspring, the perennial is not widely grown in the UK and is priced accordingly. A quick check online showed that Waitrose blueberries retail at UKP26.60 ($41.00) per kg, and roughly – given imperial measurements and conversion rates – $18.00 per kg at Fresh Direct, where I get my deliveries in Brooklyn.
Fair enough, commodities are priced differently in different geographic locations. There are plenty of economic reasons for this. But how many blueberries does Eat, where product managers make decisions about the proportions of blueberries to other fruit in the Rainbow Fruit Salad, think are a satisfying amount for consumers to find at the bottom of its packaging? The packaging described blueberries as the third constituent of the fruit salad, so what should consumers expect to find when they peer into the bottom of the tub? Should the proportions be more even? Or should they lessen dramatically the further down the list one gets?
Might just two blueberries – as opposed to the three that I found in my lunch – be enough? That would, at least, ensure that the use of the plural was accurate. I enjoyed the fruit salad, and the product experience was diminished not by the quality, or the price (I was happy to trade up from the regular fruit salad, which was also on sale at the concession at T3). As a consumer, I was willing to pay a premium and Eat largely delivered on that expectation. But the choice to limit the number of blueberries left me feeling that Eat, to my mind, had made a mistake: the desire to add blueberries to the product had superceded the delivery of the product itself. The premium value proposition had become muddled – the very notion of paying more for something better had been circumvented.
Consumers will forgive a product’s shortcomings if they feel they have scored a bargain; but offer them something better and then pull back from the deal and lower priced alternatives become more appealing. And a disappointed premium customer is unlikely to trust a brand promise from the same company again.