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.