Monday, November 30, 2015
Celestial Seasonings evicts Sleepytime bear
"He's drunk!" my wife exclaimed, as we paused in the grocery's tea aisle to gaze in horror at the damage Celestial Seasonings has done to the packages of its popular herbal teas. "The bear's passed out, slumped against the jar of honey he's been guzzling."
Brand extension has hit Celestial Seasonings. The once-gently cluttered, brightly colored boxes are now awash in white space. On the shelf was one last familiar green box of "Sleepytime" tea, which I've been gulping after dinner for decades, and I pulled it over for comparison. There, the bear sat in his green chair, safe indoors, dozing before a crackling fire. A cat dozed too, a curved blue radio played, no doubt soft music.
All gone. The bear is sleeping outside, a hobo bear. He has been evicted, kicked out into the street, his chair and table too, set out on the curb, under the moon and stars.
You can compare for yourself:
I see why they did it. The new boxes are less cluttered, the word "Sleepytime" and the bear bigger, shorn of extraneous imagery. It is now "Classic Sleepytime" to differentiate from all the other brand extensions, vanilla (bleh) and peach (double bleh) and honey (for those too busy to dip a spoon in actual honey and put it in the damn tea ourselves).
Celestial Seasonings must have known people would be dubious, because "Fresh New Look" is flagged in red on the upper left of the box to tip you off that you aren't hallucinating, and aren't buying little paper baglets of chemicals, but the same blend of chamomile and spearmint, lemongrass and tilia flowers, blackberry leaves and orange blossoms that made up the herbal tea (but no actual tea, as my family learned when we toured the Celestial Seasonings plant in Boulder, for the simple reason there isn't any tea in it).
Except if you buy "Sleepytime Extra," which contains Valerian root, a folk sedative. A glimpse online shows all sorts of even more rococo Sleepytime permutations: Sleepytime Echniacea Complete Care and Sleepytime Decaf Berry Pomegranite and Sleepytime Sinus Soother. I suppose Sleepytime Bourbon is next. That's the idea behind brand extension: try to use a name you love to leverage you into buying something you don't want, plus a ploy to block out more shelf space at supermarkets.
Sighing, we stocked up on a few of the old boxes. I floated the idea of keeping them, and just refilling from the new, blanker boxes.
"That seems like work," my wife said, dubiously.
Or tins, I persisted. I seem to remember Sleepytime tins. I could root around online....
Or maybe, I realized grimly, it is time to look for a new evening tea. To be honest, the spell is broken. I buy cans of expensive loose Twinings Earl Grey tea and not some cheaper Earl Grey because I'm confident that the stuff is what I've always been drinking, and if they dubbed it EG Classic and made the box neon blue, to not be confused with EG Proustian Lime and EG Morning Blast or whatever, I would be off put. Tea is a comfort beverage—you don't amp yourself up on tea and then hit the town—and a comfort beverage should be comforting.
Maybe that's just me. Maybe I'm not a typical consumer. I have a certain loyalty -- Heinz ketchup not Hunts, Ritz crackers, not whatever pale rip-off imitation the store is trying to fob off on you. It's fine to shake it up, sell Ritz's in odd holiday shapes. As long as the old standby is still readily available.
Brand extensions must work on others, because companies push them enough. One aisle over from the revolution in tealand, I looked for Wheat Chex. When I was growing up, Chex came in three varieties: Wheat, Corn and Rice, the wheat in smaller boxes, because it is denser, more concentrated than Rice or Corn. But eventually I stopped buying the latter two because they just aren't as good. I almost never eat breakfast cereal: it's really fattening and leaves you hungry. And a generous bowl of Wheat Chex and skim milk tops out at about 500 calories, more than a jumbo donut. But still...sometimes you've just gotta have it.
As I gazed over the profusion of Chexes (that sounds wrong; "Chex" must be both singular and plural, like "fish") I realized, to my horror, that they had chocolate and vanilla, cinnamon and clusters, even something called "Honey Nut." Everything but Wheat.
Maybe that's what goes in the empty space on the lower shelf.
Yes, I realize the carnival of indignity that is aging, that the world is not skewed in your direction anymore and the stuff you care about is revealed as irrelevant idiocy. To marketers, we 55 and older might as well be dead, except for a nether world of adult undergarments and denture creams and such. Companies have to evolve to stay in business. Someday there will be Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime Pot Brew and 30 other sub-varieties and I'll point out that it used to be just one, plain old Sleepytime tea, to my grandchildren who will shrug. "Whatever gramps," they'll say, not even looking up from their electronic devices, taking all their nutrition in the form of a thick beige liquid sucked from a catheter tube.
These changes are a double minor shock: first you feel bad that they happened, then you feel even worse for feeling bad they happened, for being that small and nostalgic a person. And for me, I guess, a triple shock, because I also feel bad that I bothered to tell you about it. To be frank, I'm sorry I brought it up.
Editor's note: Six months after this post, Celestial Seasonings announced it was returning to the old box. While I would never be so brash as to suggest those two events are somehow connected, cause and effect, I like to think I was part of the chorus of complaint that prompted the company to reverse its folly.