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The Oreo in China

It's not what Americans expect.

I am living in China for the time being, and American products here are deceptively familiar. Minute Maid orange juice is served in a bottle that looks recognizable, but the stuff tastes basically like Tang. Dove Chocolate bars have made it here, and so has Baskin-Robbins, and while the Pizza Hut looks Italian in design, onion rings aren’t usually found in Italian restaurants in the States or elsewhere.

One of the biggest surprises has been America’s favorite cookie, the Oreo, translated for Chinese tastes.

NPR recently released a story about the necessity of rebranding such an iconic product—which just celebrated its hundredth birthday—for Chinese audiences in a piece called “Rethinking the Oreo for Chinese Consumers” by Robert Smith.

Smith tells the story of the rise of the Oreo in a country that doesn’t have such a strong sweets culture as does the United States. The cookie as Americans know it was first introduced to China in 1996, and was almost immediately a flop.

The people at Kraft decided to consider what the Chinese consumer could have found distasteful about the cookie. Turns out, they thought that the cream was a little to sweet and the cookie a little too bitter.

Also, Chinese consumers did the same nostalgia factor as did Americans. One of the most well-known American habits in eating Oreos—something used in a number of their advertising campaigns—is the splitting the cooking apart and licking the frosting from the middle. Obviously, the Chinese consumer doesn’t have the same nostalgic history—either truthful or created by advertisers—of eating Oreos this way as a kid.

Kraft began retooling the cookie’s recipe to suit Chinese tastes. They made the cookie sweeter, and the cream filling less sweet. They introduced a cookie with a green tea filling and another with a filling of mango and orange flavors. They also changed the shape of the cookie itself, introducing straw varieties and lengthy, rectangular varieties.

The example of the changes made in ultra-American Oreo are completely surprising. In this case, it’s strange to think that nostalgia plays more of a factor in our national love for Oreos, rather than the tastiness of the cookie itself. Essentially, that’s what the company is trying to capture in Chinese consumers—it can taste pretty mediocre, but if your mom fed it to you as a kid, you’ll keep coming back.  

What do you think about rebranding for foreign markets?