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Classic Brand Struggles to Balance Old & New

Goldenberg's Peanut Chews have been a Philadelphia favorite since they were first made in 1917. But was new, flashy, packaging hurting sales?
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Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews have been a Philadelphia favorite since David Goldenberg began making the candy bars back in 1917. In 2003, the Goldenberg family sold the company to Just Born, the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania–based makers of Marshmallow Peeps and Mike and Ikes. Seeking to take the brand nationwide, Just Born decided Peanut Chews needed a new look. In 2005, Just Born redesigned the package and launched it to a national audience. It was a flop. The national audience was unresponsive, and once-loyal customers in the Northeast had a hard time recognizing their beloved treat. “I remember looking at myself in the mirror and thinking, ‘Why did you do that?’ ” says Ross Born, who runs Just Born with his cousin David Shaffer. In 2010, Just Born hired CAG BrandFirst in Hackettstown, New Jersey, to redesign the package once more. The new wrappers hit shelves last November.

The Original 1980-2000

Before the brand introduced this classic design, Peanut Chews were sold in wax paper; this package is from the 1980s.

In 1890, David Goldenberg, an immigrant from Romania, opened a storefront candy store in northern Philadelphia. By 1917, Goldenberg was distributing dark chocolate–covered peanut and walnut bars to American troops fighting in Europe. The soldiers returned home craving more, so in 1920, Goldenberg began distributing the chocolate-covered peanut and molasses bars throughout the Northeast.

A new look 2000-2005

The original dark chocolate had a red stripe at the top, while the milk-chocolate version featured a blue stripe. 

By 2000, Peanut Chews’s traditional customer base was literally dying off. To help modernize the brand, the Goldenbergs decided to give the package a face-lift. They were also launching a milk-chocolate version of the candy and wanted a way to differentiate the two flavors. They drafted several designs, on the basis of a consumer survey’s results, and chose this one. The Goldenbergs intended to take this package national but sold to Just Born before they got the chance.

Out with the old 2005-2011

Just Born execs were concerned that Peanut Chews’s trademark brown wouldn’t stand out against familiar brands such as Snickers. So they selected a red package for dark-chocolate bars and blue for milk-chocolate bars.

Just Born’s executives conducted focus groups with men, ages 18 to 24—the key consumers of chocolate candy. The groups were shown several packages designed to appeal to younger consumers. Perhaps the most significant change was the elimination of the name Goldenberg’s from the front of the package. “In the mid-’80s, we took the Just Born name off the package of Mike and Ikes,” says Ross Born. “It seemed like a simple change.”

Back to basics 2011-present

In January 2012, Just Born launched a retro ad campaign to coincide with the new package. It now markets the candy as “Philly born and raised since 1917.”

The package without the Goldenberg’s name was a disaster. “People were going into stores asking for a Goldberg or Goldenberger,” Born says. “When they didn’t see what they were looking for, they bought something else.” Just Born wound up buying back almost as much inventory as it distributed. Finally, in 2010, Born and Shaffer decided to scale back distribution and redesign accordingly. They conducted focus groups with current and lapsed customers. The consensus was that the Goldenberg’s name was just as important as the name Peanut Chews and that the classic brown color was what made the brand recognizable.

Bottom Line

Twelve weeks after the new package launched, sales were up 20 percent. Another 12 weeks after the ad campaign launched, sales had jumped 40 percent. “We didn’t respect the brand for what it was,” Born says. “Peanut Chews turn 95 years old this year. You have to respect that legacy. We were ignorant, but we’ve made amends. Now we’re back in the business.”

Expert Opinion

The wrong kind of research
Testing several design approaches locally would have helped the creative team understand what Philadelphians loved about the product. The approaches that tested well should have then been tested in a broader market. That being said, I think the new design is brilliantly done. The font is a little clumsy, but the clumsiness works, because it harkens back to something that’s hand done.

Gary Chiappetta, president, Kaleidoscope, Chicago

Getting there
They’re moving in the right direction, but there are a couple of things I would have done differently. The word Goldenberg’s and the star play into the mythology and history of the product; I would accentuate those. If you look at the original, Goldenberg’s is much larger. I don’t think retro means reverting to exactly what was done before, but it means leveraging your equities in new ways.

Rob Scalea, CEO, The Brand Union, Americas, New York City

A mix of old and new
I think a lot of brands lost their way in the ’90s and early 2000s. People became so distracted by new technology that they began thinking more about what they were able to do than what they should do. The original design is my favorite, but I think the new design is a great mix of heritage and modern...the red and brown and the Goldenberg’s name match the nostalgic nature of candy bars.

Katie Jain, creative director, Hatch Design, San Francisco

Accentuate the heritage
When they tried to go after the younger market, they really went too far. It didn’t look like the same brand at all. I like how they went back to their heritage. They did a good job of holding on to the brand equity that got them to where they are today, but they made the package more playful. It was smart to swap the brown and red and put the Goldenberg’s on the brown, so it really pops.

Bill Fisher, owner, Fisher Design, Cincinnati

Q&A: Why nostalgia works

Steve McGowan is the executive creative director at Landor Associates, a design agency in Cincinnati. Last year, he led the team that redesigned Tide and Downy with a new, retro look.

Q: What can marketers learn from old-school designs?
A: The graphics of days gone by were really billboards. They were simple. Typography played a huge role, as did characters. In today’s world, packaging does a lot of heavy lifting. It has regulatory info, new and improved messaging, whatever the benefit is. Back in the day, Tide was Tide. It was, “Tide’s in; dirt’s out.” That simplicity can go a long way to tell a story.

Q: It’s tempting to update packaging with the times.
Can brands gain an edge by staying the same?
A: The key is keeping up with the times without compromising your equity. We’re seeing a lot of contemporary reworking of iconic shapes. Take Coca-Cola. The glass bottle is part of its heritage; they may not sell it in a glass bottle today, but they show it in silhouette and display it in other clever ways. It brings back memories for the consumer. Plus, it’s delightful.

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
Last updated: Jul 5, 2012




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