Innovation/Global Risk

Oreo Cookies: Happy 100th Birthday – What’s Their Secret?

By Shlomo Maital  


   We almost missed it.  Oreo cookies are 100 years old.  In 1912 Nabisco developed the Oreo at its Chelsea factory in New York City.  It was actually launched as an imitation of Hydrox cookies, made by the Sunshine company.  Nabisco’s superior marketing and advertising eventually led to Hydrox’s demise.  The Oreo cookie is simply a sandwich — two chocolate wafers with a crème filling. 

   Nobody knows the origin of the Oreo name.  Wierdly, Oreo cookies became the best-selling cookie in China, in 2006, after Kraft foods made the cookies far less sweet (Asian palates are far less fond of sweets than American palates) and sold them in small packages to reduce the cost of a package. 

    Oreos have a high-tech link.  Lou Gerstner, who became CEO of IBM in (I believe) 1993,  rescued the crumbling IBM, because he knew how cookies crumble – he had been CEO and Chair of Nabisco.  His marketing skills came in handy for the super-nerdy IBM. 

    Nabisco has of course proliferated Oreo varieties (I counted about 30), with different sizes, shapes, fillings, etc. – all to capture supermarket shelf space. But the original Oreos is still the most popular.

    The big mystery is,  what is the secret of Oreos?  Why has it had such a long and successful life?  Is Nabisco just really good at maintaining a legacy cash-cow product?  Does the cookie simply taste good?  Does it combine taste with ‘fun’ (remember how as a kid, you separated the wafers and licked the cream, deliciously circumventing parental restrictions on candy?)   Does Oreos benefit from nostalgia, as parents enjoy buying Oreos for their kids, because they themselves loved Oreos when they were kids?