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Some of the Arnold Bread varieties

When Products Splinter

A couple of talks in the copious TED collection make a fascinating counterpoint. In the first, Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of Howard Moskowitz, who brought choice to spaguetti sauces. The take-away is simple: people have a diversity of tastes, and by creating a diversity of products rather than a median product, we can make more people happy. Obvious? No! says Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. He says consumers have too many products to choose from and that it causes a paralyzing anxiety.

Rather than wade into this debate, let me suggest that when we see a company like Arnold Bread create this product roster, something else is going on:

100% whole wheat, 12 Grain, 7 Grain, German Dark Wheat, Health Nut, Healthy Multi-grain, Honey Whole Wheat, Oatnut, Country Oat Bran, Country Wheat, Country White, Country Whole Grain White, Healthfull 10 Grain, Healthfull Flax and Fiber, Healthfull Hearty Wheat, Healthy Nutty Grain, Double Fiber, Double Protein, Grains & More Flax and fiber, Triple Health, Dutch Country 100% whole Wheat, Butter Split Top, Extra Fiber, Premium Potato, Premium White, Rye Everything, Rye and Pump, Pumpernickel, Rye Seedless, Melba Thin, Rye with Seeds, Soft Family 100% Whole Wheat, Soft Family Classic White, Soft Family Honey Wheat, Soft Family Whole Grain White, Brick Oven Whole Wheat, Brick Oven Premium White, Premium Italian, Stone Ground, Light 100% Whole Wheat.

By my count, there are 40 kinds of bread, and that is just counting the sliced breads, not the thins or buns. Is there really anyone in this world who loves the Arnold 10-grain, but can’t stand the 7-grain or 12-grain? More importantly in business terms, is the advantage of addressing these additional slivers of taste (if indeed people can make distinctions between the varieties – I can’t) really outweigh the additional expense of producing 40 separate packages, 40 separate categories of inventory, and 40 separate (at least slightly different) production processes?

My guess is no. The motivator here isn’t making the customer happier, it’s the oft-neglected fourth ‘P’ of marketing: placement. Even if the supermarket carries only half the varieties that Arnold offers, all of a sudden they are hogging a big part of the bread aisle. Arnold is the bread that is most likely to be close to your hand.

PS: You can read a follow-on post to this one here.

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