The Oreo: Britain's Black Sheep Biscuit

by Molly Kenney

I’ve found that England is a pretty difficult place for an outsider to fit in, but I don’t have it half as bad as the Oreo. During the last few weeks, as part of Kraft’s new Oreo marketing campaign, America’s favorite cookie has stormed grocers’ shelves, expanding its prior territory of Sainsbury’s (one of many popular UK stores) to supermarket chains throughout Britain. In the land of the biscuit, the Oreo falls below standards, and I expect its stay in the UK will be a short one.

In my very first class here in London, a professor of Employment Relations angrily explained that the U.S. dominated the worldwide “biscuit market.” In Germany, he said, you need a PhD to make biscuits; though German biscuits are the finest in the world, they are too expensive. In the U.S., where everything is “cheap, impersonal, and deskilled,” uneducated Kraft workers make millions of “those crappy black biscuits — what are they called, Orioles?” every day. But Like Goldilocks, the professor finds British biscuits juuuuust right, and that’s why he thinks the rest of the world should too.

The cries of indignation can be heard across the land, and in London, where every decision is financial, people are speaking with their wallets. In my local Tesco Metro (another British supermarket) , there are no basic baking ingredients and no affordable vegetables or fresh meat, but there are biscuits. Biscuits get most of their own aisle, and digestives, gingers, chocolates, and fruit-filled biscuits line the shelves, which are picked bare by evening, after the East End’s investment banking population has had their fill. But the Oreos aren’t moving at all. Tesco picked them up a few weeks ago, and promptly relegated a cramped, bottom shelf spot to the American classic.

True, Oreos fall far short of McVitie’s Digestives, especially the dark chocolate-covered ones, but their frigid UK reception lies in unreasonable expectations. BBC Magazine’s recent story on Kraft’s Oreo campaign mentions biscuit makers’ disdain for Oreo’s sweetness, unhealthy sugar levels, and mismatching with tea. But BBC Magazine, and Britons in general, are missing the point. Oreos are cheap, sweet, and bad for you; their omnipresence in U.S. markets, vending machines, and houses of almost every socioeconomic background make them the cookie of the masses, if you will. Here, Tory Boris Johnson just got elected as London's mayor, so traditional and posh, in the bakery and in the government, are firmly in.

During their short time in the UK market, Oreos, it appears, have failed to make an impact. When I head back to the U.S. thirty-nine days from now (but who’s counting?), I’m willing to bet Oreos will already be on their way home too.

(Photo by Jono Martin of Detroit, MI via Flickr, using a Creative Commons License.)

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Daniel said...

You make the Oreo sound like the Hillary Clinton (April-May 2008 version) of cookies/biscuits. However, the Oreo has one fatal flaw:

They suck.

I mean, they REALLY suck. I had one last year because I was starving and there was one available, and I was horrified at just how awful they really were.

I'm not saying the British or the Germans have better taste than Americans. They don't. I'm saying that Oreos are an abomination, and not truly representative of America, the Land of the Free and the Home of the Whopper.

Let's give them to the French instead. THAT would be fun to WATCH...

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