What Where They Thinking? For Oreo—And Lots Of Brands—Bigger Isn't Better

Marketed as America's favorite cookie, Oreo has become an American icon. Two chocolaty circular cookie wafers held together by a sweet vanilla creme filled center have become the perfect accompaniment for milk and an irresistible snack for young and old alike.

Then what could be wrong with making more to love? Introduced in 1984, the Oreo Big Stuf was a humongous cookie, about 10 times the size of a normal Oreo. Sold in a box of 10, each Big Stuf cookie was packaged individually, each containing 316 calories and 13 grams of fat. This cookie didn't even make it to middle school—it was discontinued after seven years. 

Where They Went Wrong

1. Gluttonous or Wasteful?  It would seem that giving the consumer more of what they love would make this product an instant and continuous success. But there the execution was flawed with regard to the consumer target. Oreo is a family staple—but it seems like the huge size of the Oreo Big Stuf is designed more for adult-sized appetites rather than kids. Yes, I'm sure it was amazing to get a giant cookie in your lunch box or as an after-school snack, but the truth is, most kids couldn't finish it in just one sitting (at least without getting a tummy ache).

2. The Time Factor  Considering the large size of this cookie, someone should have determined the amount of time it would take to actually eat it. Reviewers said it took 20 minutes to completely eat just one. With an average lunch time of just 30 minutes, kids are eager to get outside with their friends for recess, not sit inside eating a giant cookie. Even an adult with a monstrous appetite wouldn't spend that much time to eat this snack.

3. The Forgotten Oreo Rituals  Either you twist your Oreo apart to enjoy the creme-filled center first, or you dunk the entire Oreo in milk, or you do a little bit of both, but with an Oreo this size, you can't do either one easily. You now need to change your Oreo routine, eating a lot of it first so you can eventually pull it apart or get it small enough to fit in the glass for dunking. Did someone forget that old habits die hard?

4. New Dietary Guidelines and the Food Pyramid  Yes, a few cookies here and there can be considered a treat in moderation, but the Big Stuf contained 316 calories and 13 grams of fat. The USDA had just released new dietary guidelines in 1980 (4 years before the introduction) recommending moderating the intake of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium as they were considered risk factors in certain chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Plus the Food Pyramid was released in 1984. Apparently no one at Nabisco took this information into consideration when developing this new product, or maybe consumers just were unaware of this information at the time when Nabisco was testing this concept.

The Takeaway

Oreo Big Stuf didn't die immediatley, so I wouldn't say this was a totally disastrous product innovation, but we can still learn a few things in hindsight:

1) Execution - The insight was right, it was just the execution that seems a bit flawed. Giving the consumer more of what they love—that yummy creme-filled center—did work for other Oreo products, namely the Double Stuf and Triple Stuf Oreo products.

2) Do the Opposite - Sometimes an innovator needs to take a concept and prepare another one that represents the opposite approach. Had Nabisco done this by giving consumers a much smaller Oreo in contrast to the Oreo Big Stuf, they just may have stumbled upon the Oreo Mini product a little sooner than they did.

3) Watch the Trends - As the USDA was evaluating and linking dietary patterns to chronic disease states, nutritionists and R&D managers at Nabisco should have been watching this trend closely to understand how it would impact the Oreo business now and in the future.

Despite the demise of the Oreo Big Stuf, we can't tell you how happy we are that the regular sized Oreo is alive and well and available for lots of dunking. In moderation, of course.

Read about more near-miss products in our What Were They Thinking? series. 

[Image: Flickr user wintersoul1]

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  • Heather Spears

    I don't care what anybody says, Big Stuf Oreos were awesome! I don't know what year it was, but when I got them at the store, you could buy just one. I've wanted them to bring them back for years. Unfortunately with all the health nuts attacking everything that tastes good it'll never happen. Guess what? It is possible to eat junk food and stay skinny as long as you don't gorge yourself. So what if it's bad for you? I could get hit by a bus, and die tomorrow. The way I see it I'd rather eat stuff that tastes good, and enjoy it then eat healthy stuff, and have to literally force it down my throat. Sorry for my rant, but I am a very picky person, and I get defensive when it comes to junk food.

  • Chris Martin

    whomever said it would take twenty minutes to eat this cookie must be a complete nutcase! five minutes, maybe... but twenty is just lunacy!

  • tryanmax

    My mom bought these for me when I was in summer day camp and packed one in my lunch each day. It was only for a week each year, and I'm pretty sure I burned those extra 300 calories in minutes with all the swimming, hiking, and other camp stuff. So, no, it was not an every-day sort of thing. But I can personally attest that it did not take an 8-year-old 20 minutes to scarf one of those things. And don't underestimate people's ingenuity. I figured out how to dunk the massive cookie.

    I think the big mistake is only selling these things in an 8-pack in the cookie aisle. These things would probably still be around today if they were sold individually in gas stations and grocery checkouts next to the (now defunct) Twinkies and Ho-Ho's. I know I'd still treat myself every so often. Sometimes you just wanna splurge.

  • Stephane Bardin

    Please excuse my ignorance as I do not eat Oreos, but I am thinking that Oreos Big Stuff was aimed at adults (most likely males) as a nostalgia play to tug at the childhood memories of enjoying the "small stuff" oreos.  I do agree with the premise that this product changes the "Oreo routine" which is basically ingrained at childhood.  It is also an indulgence, not meant to be healthy - not sure Oreos are anywhere close to being a healthy treat.  I just wonder how many guys would eat such a ginormous cookie....