Et Tu, Annie’s?

March 23, 2021

AS YOU KNOW, complaining is my favorite habit. I’m at my best, I think, when I’m hating on something. And one of my favorite things to hate on are corporate liveries. Customarily my target is airlines, but I’ve been known to direct my scorn into other realms. The U.S. Postal Service, the New England Patriots, and the Holiday Inn hotel chain, for example, are among the entities whose redesigns I’ve panned in these pages.

This time it’s macaroni and cheese.

I discovered Annie’s macaroni and cheese in 1992. For thirty years it’s been my go-to guilty pleasure snack. Packed with carbohydrates and sodium (there are numerous flavor combinations, too many of which I find addictive), Annie’s is likely the chief culprit in the progressive growth of my waistline and blood pressure readings.

Annie’s Homegrown was founded in Connecticut by Annie Withey and Andrew Martin back in 1989. (Martin was a co-creator of Smartfood popcorn a few years earlier.) Although today part of the General Mills conglomerate, the brand is marketed independently and has stayed true to the hippie-ish ethos of its founders. Think of it as the Ben & Jerry’s of the shells and cheddar world.

What I’m upset about is the company’s new packaging. I was at Star Market in Cambridge the other day when, as usual, I felt that inexorable pull towards the prepared foods aisle. I needed something to offset the spinach, organic berries, and the Beyond Meat veggie patties already in my basket. I looked up at those familiar boxes in their flavor-specific colors — the green alfredo, the purple cheddar. But something was different. The colors were more saturated. The “serving suggestion” image looked goopier and more decadent. The lettering had lost its little serifs. Was this my beloved Annie’s, or some low-budget knockoff?

I fell to my knees, upended my basket and threw my arms to the heavens. “Is nothing sacred!” I bellowed to the gods of consumer marketing. I wept, smacking my hands against the floor in frustration, until a vexed assistant manager dragged me away by my ankles.

Old on the left; new on the right.

The Annie’s livery had changed once or twice over the years, but it was always stylish and distinctive. Sophisticated yet fun, with a look and feel marketable towards both kids and adults. This new one looks — there’s no other way to say it — cheesy. Like it was designed by a child. Is that the intent? Is their marketing now aimed at actual children, instead of the overgrown kind like me? And what’s with the stink lines coming from the spoon?

Worst of all is what they’ve done to Bernie, the company’s rabbit mascot, whose whiskered visage has adorned the boxes from the beginning. (I’m tempted to use the word “iconic” here, but remember what we’re talking about). Like the rest of the packaging, he’s been dumbed down. His picture is more cartoonish. And he is no longer the “Rabbit of Approval.” Now he’s the oh-so-cute “Bunny of Approval.” This alone is grounds for a boycott. Apparently the idea of a rabbit is too taxonomically sophisticated for the average eater. The word “homegrown” — another lofty concept we can’t handle — has similarly been eliminated.

This is an outrage — a grotesque affront to the loyalest of customers. If I’m going to destroy myself through the reckless intake of starch, salt, and calories, can’t I please do it nostalgically? My favorite indulgence has become the Southwest Airlines of comfort food. Poor Bernie must be turning in his rabbit grave.

Wait, don’t say it. Of all the things to be whining about, right? There are so many good uses for bad energy, and this is the best I’ve got? The oceans are turning into acid, and I’m upset over a cartoon rabbit. Is this the dumbest post I’ve ever attached my name to?

And looking again at those boxes, I guess they could be a lot worse. That old lettering was kind of ugly.

Maybe I’m just cranky because I’m hungry. I’m thinking alfredo tonight.


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10 Responses to “Et Tu, Annie’s?”
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  1. Ron Leaf says:

    You might be interested to know that Paul Nardone, who was CEO of Annie’s during its rapid growth in the early 2000’s, was from Revere.

  2. Simon says:

    You might like this since it’s about the actual Annie. Recent article on our cheesy (no pun intended) local paper’s website (beware tons of ads) since these days Annie’s is headquartered in Berkeley.

  3. Michael says:

    Seriously, Star? It’s like shopping in a hospital or a morgue. Please, Market Basket is so much better.

    On topic, I strongly suspect that TJ’s mac and cheese is made by Annie’s, it’s remarkably similar and you can avoid the bunny of approval. Of course the box is an unattractive brown, but maybe better than the new Annie’s purple.

    • Patrick says:

      “…Seriously, Star? It’s like shopping in a hospital or a morgue. Please, Market Basket is so much better…”

      I like the quasi-artisanal vibe that Star Market has adopted in recent times — at least in the Porter Square location. They have a whole aisle devoted to gluten-free crackers made from hemp.

      Actually, my normal go-to spot is the Pemberton Market on Mass Ave, but I’ve been boycotting them because of their annoyingly sanctimonious COVID policies. You have to wear six masks and stand in line outside for 45 minutes.

  4. Lurk says:

    Oh dear, Macaroni _and_ cheese? No, no, no old chap, it’s “Macaroni Cheese” no need for the superfluous, “and”. 🙂

    More worryingly, what sort of food regulations allow for a product to be called, “Macaroni (and) Cheese)” and have to proclaim, “Real Cheese!” on the (old) box? Either it _is_ cheese or it is _not_.

    And, “Cheese from cows…” on the new box? Now, it’s nice that the cows aren’t being treated with whatever drug it is that I can’t read the name of, but cheese doesn’t come from cows. It comes from milk. Now I know that might seem a wee bit picky, but they should get these things right. Harrumph!

    While we’re busy tearing third rate advertising nonsense to bits, what in the name of the wee man does the fatuous tag, “Made with goodness.” mean? Do people really pay good money for this drivel?

    I tell you, when I lead the Panzers down Whitehall there are going to be some _serious_ changes in the advertising industry and… oh bother, I seem to have run out of green ink.

    On the bright side, at least they’re up-front about their support for CND on the new box.

    • Patrick says:

      “… No, no, no old chap, it’s ‘Macaroni Cheese’ no need for the superfluous, ‘and’…”

      It’s not superfluous. The term “macaroni cheese,” using “macaroni” as the adjective, implies that the central product is cheese. It’s not. If anything the name should be “cheese macaroni.” I’m reminded of how, around here, we call it a “steak and cheese” sandwich. In most places it’s a “cheese steak.” Which makes no sense. It’s not a steak, it’s a sandwich that has steak in it.

      “…More worryingly, what sort of food regulations allow for a product to be called, ‘Macaroni (and) Cheese)’ and have to proclaim, ‘Real Cheese!’ on the box?…”

      No explanations or excuses for this part.

      “…While we’re busy tearing third rate advertising nonsense to bits, what in the name of the wee man does the fatuous tag, ‘Made with goodness.’ mean? Do people really pay good money for this drivel?…”

      “Homegrown” is out but “goodness” is in. Fancy that. We don’t have the expression “the wee man” in these parts. I’m a little afraid, but care to explain?

  5. stacey says:

    Logos are simplifying indeed and…. product names are following the same trend as attention spans, in that they are also shortening. Nestles’ Hundred thousand dollar bar, is now the 100k. Weight Watchers is now WW (although if you pronounce the WW is has more syllables to pronounce), Dunkin Donuts just Dunkin or even DD, Hewlett Packard to HP, Kentucky Fried Chicken is now officially KFC… etc…

  6. stacey says:

    They got rid of the word “homegrown” with its “drug culture” double entrendre,
    in exchange for the current holy word of “organic”. All of the rest stems from that.

  7. Mark says:

    PEACE! 🙂

    Look at what it doesn’t say:

    No more promise of 10 grams protein

    No reference to how much sodium on the contents box (somewhere else on the box).

    AND … how much is a box? I can get a box of “Shells and Cheese” at the Dollar Store!

  8. Another JT says:

    Ouch. As another longtime Annie’s consumer, I think I have to agree with this assessment. It’s a current trend for logos to become more simplified and cartoon-like, but the change from “rabbit” to “bunny” and the loss of “Homegrown” from the brand name seems almost too juvenile, as do the addition of the gratuitous heart and peace symbol.

    But now I’m also hungry.