This week’s Foodie Friday coincides with the start of Passover. As with most festivals of any religion, certain foods appear for the Seder that rarely show up at other times during the year. One of those is Tsimmis, a combination of sweet potatoes, dried fruit, and carrots. I use a recipe written down by my mother years ago (from her mother) and as with many family recipes it requires some interpretation and local knowledge. It calls for a “large can” of yams (how large exactly?), a box of prunes (which is how many ounces?) and a few other equally vague references. Of course, my inclination as a cook is to use fresh ingredients. Fresh sweet potato instead of canned, fresh carrots in place of the bag of frozen ones called for, etc. I don’t, however, and the reason why I don’t is a good business point too.
If I were to serve the dish made with fresh ingredients my family, who have been eating my mother’s recipe at seders for decades, would notice a difference. Holidays are built around traditions and those traditions contain expectations. Would the dish taste better? Probably. It would be more healthy as well – canned yams in syrup are not the best thing. But the folks around that table aren’t looking for healthy or better. They want the comfort of the familiar.
We often forget that in business as we’re always trying to make or products or services “better.” History is littered with products that represent good companies making bad decisions by making the very familiar different. New Coke, the Arch Deluxe burger, and others represent variants on successful products that seemed the same but resulted in an experience that didn’t match consumers’ expectations. Of course we need to improve but we need to do so in a way that brings our customers along for the ride. Presenting them with a dish that they expect to be one thing but which is very different probably isn’t going to have a great outcome.
It can be done. Another Foodie Friday example. After years of roasting turkeys for Thanksgiving I wanted to switch to frying them (it freed up my ovens, was quicker and they taste better too!). I didn’t just switch them one year. I did both and let the family come to their own conclusions. My mother was able to answer her “darling, won’t they be very greasy?” question by comparing the methods side by side. Now, we only fry.
As brand we can cajole, request, and demonstrate. We can’t impose. We need to meet expectations with the dishes that live in their memories and for which they keep coming back.