When Schweppes Zimbabwe tweaked its recipe a few weeks ago to lower sugar levels and do away with some ingredients in its Mazoe orange drinks, it was meant to fend off health advocates.
By Nyasha Chingono
Its new recipe came amid global concerns that calories provided by sugar-sweetened beverages had very little nutritional value and contributed to obesity.
But the biggest battle would come where the company, a Coca-Cola licenced bottler, least expected it.
Although its new Mazoe orange crush looked like its predecessor, an enduring 88-year old iconic brand, it did not taste the same anymore.
But consumers with a historical memory of the original Mazoe taste felt cheated and immediately took to social media to express displeasure over the sudden change in their favourite juice’s taste and formula.
“You may want to rethink this change in your formula. It was ill advised, and your tasters led you astray. You’ve ruined a once amazing brand. And don’t bother with the standard response. Already been to your website and honestly if I wanted a low-sugar content beverage I’d drink water,” Sharon While said.
“Mazoe was the last local product I had faith and took pride in. This new formula is a total heartbreak. I am thoroughly disappointed in the lack of respect you have for the loyal customers you have, destroying such a good brand just like that,” another customer said. A campaign against the company was swiftly launched on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter calling on customers to boycott the new product. Others called for the return of the original Mazoe.
Then a week or so later Coca-Cola released a statement defending the new Mazoe recipe, citing several health implications of excessive sugar in the original drink.
“Around the world, eating and drinking less sugar is an increasingly important issue for many people. Sugar in both foods and beverages can be part of a balanced lifestyle if people don’t have too much,” Coca-Cola said in a statement.
The statements did little to douse the Mazoe war.
In fact, it seemed to have added fuel to a raging social media war with many attacking the beverages manufacturer for not responding to customers’ needs.
The episode was proving to be a colossal marketing failure. Almost overnight, Coca Cola, itself a unique brand, had to respond to customer concerns on a brand they owned.
In a few days, Schweppes Zimbabwe succumbed to customer demands and promptly pulled the product off the shelves and pledged to bring back the original Mazoe taste.
“The people have spoken, they want original Mazoe,” Schweppes Zimbabwe managing director Charles Msipa said. “And they want it soon. Original Mazoe is coming back!”
From #hashbringbackourmazoe to #DzosaiMazoe among other hashtags on social media, it was obvious that consumers of the iconic beverage had prevailed against a powerful corporate.
“We want consumers to know we are sorry, for any discontent that we may have caused. Our intention was not to disappoint them,” Msipa said.
He had to make another humble admission that research had revealed the emotional attachment between Mazoe and the people of Zimbabwe.
“The extensive consumer research only revealed the extent of consumer preference for the less sugar variant but obviously did not measure the passion that the people of Zimbabwe have for the original Mazoe,” Msipa remarked.
Mazoe orange crush has been part of Zimbabwean history since the 1930s, with strong roots in the Mazowe Valley where one Arthur Sturgess, a drink factory owner from Bulawayo, christened the concentrate drink at the peak of colonial settlement in Zimbabwe. Since then, the brand has over the years become part of the country’s heritage, one that locals cannot do without.
“The overwhelming feedback from the breadth and width of the country is testimony to the fact that Mazoe is central to the Zimbabwean heritage and culture. This association with our history and heritage is beyond measure. The true measure of that is the feedback that consumers have been giving us on various platforms, radio, TV, social media and print media,” Msipa said. Other Mazoe fruity flavours like Blackberry, Raspberry, Cream Soda, Peach and Naartjie had also been affected by the sugar reduction formula.
“The initial reaction since the announcement of the Mazoe re-introduction on 20 June has been incredible. We expect the original Mazoe to be in the shops by the end of July, allowing time for label preparation and printing for the distinct original and reduced sugar Mazoe,” said Msipa.
It had to take a badly calculated move for Schweppes to realise that the brand belonged to the people.
Bringing back the original Mazoe taste is a wise move for the export market where the company seeks to rake in US$12 million this year from the Namibia, Zambia, Botswana and South African market.
Coca-Cola senior brand manager Vee Chibanda says demand for the product has been firm notwithstanding the change in recipe but the export market is rather volatile hence the need for precision and clarity on the trajectory the company should take.