Hands Off My Choco Taco: A Lesson on the Power of the Consumer Voice

By Senior Strategist, Lindsey Ketterer

Ah, the Choco Taco: the humble, glorious, oft-forgotten-until-now-discontinued hero of the frozen aisle and ice cream trucks everywhere.

We have some beef, Unilever.

The decision to discontinue this beloved treat that has been sating hungry summer bellies and dripping chocolate ice cream from its thin, chewy waffle cone shell since 1983 sent a shockwave around the community.

In light of the pandemic, pending recession (please, no), and other setbacks, many companies are cutting back on their portfolios and reallocating resources, and this sweet treat was another casualty. 

But something feels familiar here….

Remember the year 2012? (Yeah, me neither.) But one important event happened: consumers saved the Twinkie from its imminent demise. After enjoying many decades as a lunchbox compadre, the cream-filled snack declined in sales due to shifts in diet trends to healthier, cleaner, and lower carb lifestyles.  But nay: when Hostess announced its seizure of production of the Twinkie, Americans’ nostalgia kicked into high gear and now Twinkies still grace the shelves of C-stores and groceries nationwide.

So, are we the first to write about the ill fate of the Choco Taco? No. The only? Definitely not. But that proves our point: the consumer voice is extremely powerful. And the most influential brands listen. 

We do marketing, so our whole business is built around consumer empathy.  But for brand managers, P and L rule everything, especially when it comes to making tough calls about brand portfolio performance — that may fly in the face of even the most consumer-beloved or storied brand. 

What we love about the Twinkie and Choco Taco situations is this: consumer voice has the power to change profit-led decisions. And at a time when our voices often feel powerless to change things happening in the world, a saved Twinkie or Choco Taco is proof that we can make a difference. 

There is power in numbers and consumers can advocate for the change and the products they want to see from the brands in their ecosystem. This is especially true given our social media and virality-driven culture — with even the co-founder of Twitter getting involved in the Choco Taco’s fate. And, this is not the first time this has happened — from encouraging McDonald's to stop using plastic straws to Tesla software updates.

The lesson for businesses? Yep: it’s still “listen to your consumers” — even when the numbers don’t look so good. Nostalgia is a huge currency, especially when times are tough. And as a consumer: speak up for what you believe in! You never know what may happen.

We the people, after all, are the people who these products are for.

Time will tell what happens with the beloved childhood treat: will Unilever heed the call of the awoken Choco Taco fanatics, or will it rest in peace alongside the other fallen soldiers of nostalgic treats of yore?

I guess it really is true: ~You don’t know what you have until it’s gone.~