Milo’s massive mishandling of its recipe change

Milo’s massive mishandling of its recipe change
Nestle thought it could get away with changing its iconic Milo recipe, but Kiwi shoppers aren’t having a bar of it. The brand has received a barrage of complaints on social media that aren’t dulling down as it might hope. Instead, its consumers’ collective voice is growing stronger. We talked to managing director of Socialites, Wendy Thompson, about what a business should do in Milo’s situation.

Nestle changed its malted chocolate drink recipe in New Zealand without warning, and consumers have not taken kindly to it.

The ‘Milo Australia & New Zealand’ Facebook page has experienced an influx of complaints from angry customers.

No one seems to be a fan of the new Milo’s taste, but the bigger problem at hand seems to be the shock factor of the company not announcing the change.

People commenting say they feel duped into buying a product they didn’t know had changed and many want a refund.


A spokesperson on the Facebook page is replying to comments saying the change in flavour is because it has removed vitamin A, B1 and magnesium and vanilla flavour.

The spokesperson says the new Milo contains added vitamin D, B3, B6 and B12 to build strong bones and provide extra energy, and to make the original recipe healthier.

rival Facebook page started up over the weekend, called “Change Milo back to the old recipe,” has garnered 6,901 likes.

All in all, it’s a PR disaster for Nestle.

Despite the huge backlash, the company has commented on posts today saying it won’t be changing the recipe back.

Wendy Thompson

Wise decision? Wendy Thompson, the managing director of social media agency for businesses, Socialites, doesn’t think so.

She says the company has seriously underestimated the emotional attachment its New Zealand customers have to Milo.

“Milo is not just a commodity, it is much more than that,” Thompson says.

“It is a full-body experience that takes us back to mornings at sports practice and camping with family.  Kiwis have a lot of emotional investment in the brand, along with pineapple lumps and hokey pokey [ice cream]. It’s a Kiwi institution.”

The social media expert answers our questions about the ongoing Milo saga below.

  1. When a business is experiencing backlash on social media over a decision it's made, what is the best way to handle it?
    First up you need to admit there is a problem and address it super quickly. Time is of the essence here. Be truthful, apologise if appropriate and be respectful of your community.
     
  2. If the majority of comments are overwhelmingly negative, like on Milo's Facebook page, is it best to admit defeat and backtrack?
    I think we’ll find it’s a business decision and they can’t change it easily, possibly they’ll have new production processes underway. What is interesting is that they haven’t (as far as I could see) actually explained why they are changing the recipe. This is key if there is a good reason then people could be more understanding. In terms of whether they should admit defeat and backtrack, hmmm, looking at history and New Coke… if I was them, I would be admitting defeat and changing it back.
     
  3. Should businesses announce on social media when they are going to make a major change to a product? 
    Yes, yes, yes!  People do not want to be told what to do and how to feel anymore. They want to know who you are as a brand and what you stand for.  They expect, as a fan, to be involved in product decisions - they are the buyers after all!  Companies that don’t understand this are not only setting themselves up for social media backlash but are missing a huge opportunity.

    A perfect example of a drinks company getting it right and involving their customers in major product decisions was when Charlie’s last year launched a cola product. They made one batch and then asked their fans to vote yes or no to keeping it, very risky but perfect use of social media, more info on my blog here.  
     
  4. Do you think Milo would have had as much backlash if they announced it on social media, rather than surprise their customers?
    This is the key question. People want to be involved in a company, they expect something (as they should) for their loyalty. Making such a big change without telling people first was a big mistake. If they had warned everyone, brought them on the journey as to why the change was needed and coming, they would have massively reduced the backlash. 
     
  5. How can businesses tell the difference between people jumping on the social media bandwagon to complain, versus complaints that are going to seriously impact their business?
    When a consumer has easily available alternatives to buy, there’s a fair chance they’ll jump ship to make a point. I’d say that this volume of complaints will seriously impact their business. However, until the numbers come out we’ll never really know. 

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This article was originally published on our sibling publication TheRegister.co.nz