Why Betty’s eggs can’t be beat
Two Harvard students have just invented Spray Cake – cake batter in a whipped cream can format which, in less than a minute, can be microwaved to serving perfection. It sounds exceptionally easy, and it might be the biggest baking innovation for years.
Now, let’s rewind 60 years. The baking world is once again on the brink of change, with the advent of ‘simply add water’ cake mixes, sold by General Mills under the Betty Crocker brand. But Betty has come a cropper – sales are flat. Enter one of the founders of consumer research, Ernst Ditcher, who uses some of the first ever focus groups to answer the unexpected failure of Betty Crocker mixes – they were making it too easy.
Ditcher finds that for women, baking a cake is a sign of love. For those who crave the convenience of a ready-made mix, having to only add water cheapens this love. His recommendation to General Mills is to take the dried eggs out of the mix and grant consumers the creative contribution of adding fresh eggs to the bowl. By making the mix less convenient, sales rise and Betty becomes a household name.
Now, it’s very true that the role of women has advanced greatly since the 50s – homemaking is no longer just a woman’s job, something Betty knows very well as an active supporter of same-sex marriage. However, choosing to bake a cake (even from a mix) is still not an everyday activity. Baking belongs to special occasions and for showing your love to either a friend, family member or to yourself as a treat one rainy Sunday afternoon.
Whilst everything else in our world becomes easier, faster, more connected, which actions can we really take ownership of? This is something Matthew Crawford tackles in his books, “championing the experience of seeing a direct effect of your own actions in the world, and feeling that these actions are genuinely your own”. Neither Betty Crocker nor Spray Cake will appeal to the kind of bakers who find satisfaction in doing everything from scratch. Nevertheless, if Ditcher and Crawford are right, then Betty needn’t worry about watching her back just yet.