United Airlines Brought the Stroopwafel to America and Now It’s Mainstream

When Oscar Munoz took over from disgraced United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek the airline rolled out modest customer experience improvements as part of an overall attempt to change the narrative of the airline.

  • Illy coffee
  • Stroopwafels as complimentary snacks in coach

Illy coffee is a fantastic brand, a personal favorite, though the water that goes into making coffee and cabin pressurization present challenges to delivery. Stroopwafels are delicious.

Now Stroopwafels have gone mainstream. Last month McDonald’s even launched the limited-time Stroopwafel McFlurry. And the company owes it all to being on board United.

Stroopwafels’ big break came when United added them to its rotation of complimentary snacks for economy passengers. Beginning in December 2015, when the airline announced stroopwafels as part of its free snack lineup, Google searches for stroopwafels began trending upward.

A huge part of the breakthrough came when marketers of the treat started emphasizing “[p]utting a stroopwafel on top of hot coffee or tea. The caramel softens and becomes gooey as the waffle exterior warms.” United was promoting both a new snack and a new coffee, so it was a perfect match.

United shared that technique through a 2015 social media video, building anticipation for stroopwafels’ February 2016 launch as part of a broader effort to improve customer satisfaction. By offering the snack on domestic morning flights, the airline introduced the snack to Americans who may never travel to Holland.

Airline marketing is powerful marketing. I originally became addicted to Biscoff cookies flying Westair (United Express) in the mid-1990s. I never actually purchased any Biscoff myself until it was a qualifying partner as part of the US Airways Grand Slam promotion. That’s how I discovered Biscoff spread.

In a 2007 cutback United reduced the size of Biscoff cookies they gave out. Maybe that’s how the cookies became more associated with Delta (and earning Delta miles buying them couldn’t have hurt, either).

We’re a long way of course from the time when United replaced galley carts with ones specially-designed to keep McDonald’s burgers warm while the lettuce and bun stayed cool.

However after a hiatus it’s great that United has stroopwafels back on board. Perhaps they learned that they’re not the only one delivering marketing muscle, that small niceties matter for customers stuck in back of a metal tube and branding with a quality, somewhat exotic, authentic treat can elevate their own brand as well.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. We discovered stroopwafels when we lived in Europe back around 2005. So glad we can find them here in the US.

  2. Grew up with stroopwafels, not the sickly sugary United ones but the genuine Dutch variety

  3. Agree with Harrry the packaged ones are too icky sweet
    Some of the freshly made ones not long out of the oven in Holland can be truly tempting though and worth the unhealthy splurge
    Many years ago I had a short fling with stropwaffles in Amsterdam and felt sick after consuming too many
    Having said that there are so many better alternatives in pastry/ cookies throughout Europe if one needs their sugar fix
    Unfortunately popular doesn’t always mean good but of course subjective
    Some like to pour powdered sugar over their already to sweet desserts
    So to each their own
    I’ll take fresh cookies from Denmark or France any great bakery over packaged anytime or just skip completely

  4. From a marketing viewpoint, American has much to learn from United’s successful effort to support its brand by enhancing the customer experience.

    Well, at least we have a better appreciation why Parker’s AA is so vehemently opposed to the ME3 in the false name of “competition.”

    Frankly, I would not be surprised if by this holiday season AA’s unions come out with a “Mr. Potato Head” game featuring CEO Parker.

  5. I once had a FA on a United regional jet partner hand me a Biscoff only to see Delta branding on it. I figured it just got cross supplied from the regional partner that likely had mixed up the Delta stock. I’m sure United management wouldn’t be very amused. I too discovered Biscoff spread through the Grand Slam contests, gosh I miss those.

  6. I like the stroopwafels from Albert Heijn in Amsterdam. When I am there regularly for work, I load up on them and bring them back for the family and others in the office. They are a big hit and the Albert Heijn brand one’s are pretty good and come in 10 flavors.

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