New & Improved: The Day the Shapes Died

2016-05-11 (1)

Arnott’s, Arnott’s, Arnott’s…

Today, the world mourns the loss of Australia’s most underrated product. Sharing a shelf with Vegemite, Tim Tams, Milo, WeetBix and the Victa Lawn Mower, the Shape has become a staple of the Australian household. Their signature pentagonal and hexagonal “baked not fried” biscuits with little red bursts of flavour are one of the great inventions to come out of our country. 53 million boxes of these babies fly off Aussies shelves yearly.

For the last 2 months, family shopping has been a nervous affair. Each week my dad would bring home his weekly box or two of Barbecue Shapes, sporting a “Coming Soon: New & Improved Shapes” label. Initially, I thought the end was nigh for my favourite bickie…and I was right. Every single Shapes flavour is been uprooted as we speak.

The way my dad characterised it seems pretty fair dinkum: picture the board room at Arnott’s; some new executive, determined to make his mark, decides to make some changes. He looks at focus groups, takes data and then decides that what has worked for over 50 years is old news. Lo and behold, they went ahead and did it. “You asked for more flavour Shapes lovers, so get a big flavour hit from the new and improved Shapes available in the biscuit aisle now!”

New & Improved Barbecue Shapes feature a faded crimson/brown powder that forms a thick layer around each biscuit. Gone are the little red specks. They say too many people complained about the flavour falling off, so they now bake their flavour into the biscuit. But I personally believe the best part of a box of Shapes is consuming the fallen red dust at the bottom of the foil packaging.

They taste like Smiths Barbecue flavour crisps.  More specifically, they taste like the BBQ Ribs chips if you have tried those. They do not taste bad. They actually taste fine. But they are NOT Barbecue Shapes. Try it for yourselves. But for every box of new ones you buy, grab the old ones too. We need to keep those sales up.

At some point, somewhere, somebody thought this was a good idea. They fucked it.

In the spring of 1985, CocaCola had the bright idea of flipping their signature recipe in favour of a newer, revitalised one which replaced the original in an effort to compete with Pepsi. It was later renamed New Coke, when it was discovered that you probably should not try to ‘fix’ the biggest selling commercial drink in the world.

In the spring of 2014, Big M had the same idea, this time with their classic chocolate flavour in order to compete with the likes of Barista Bros and OAK. It is at this point I firmly plant the palm of my hand to my face in disgust and disbelief. Like New Coke, “Bigger Flavour Chocolate” Big M was not commercially unsuccessful, but they lost enough of the market share to quickly get “Original Chocolate” back up on the shelves.

And who remembers iSnack 2.0?

It’s never a good idea. Some people like the new, most like the old. To try and replace a staple is fundamentally idiotic. Market it side-by-side, fine. But do not try to fix what is not broken. I’m speaking in clichés now, so you know I am serious.

Arnotts have since announced the Barbecue, Chicken Crimpy and Savoury flavours will be sold, for now, alongside their revised versions with the “Original Flavour” tag on the box (sorry Pizza Shapes fans).

Despite this, I have yet to see the classic Shapes in any supermarket or servo. The promises made have fallen on deaf ears and the loyal followers of this gorgeous biscuit will lament their untimely demise until Arnotts pulls their finger out and fixes their ‘fix’.

They are gone for now, and so am I. I have bought my last box of Shapes.

Vale Shapes 1964-2016.

Vale Shapes 1964-2016.

Radio Monash Archive

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