The History of Cake Mix & Resistance to Change

cakemix-e1454724283655Prior to 1930, every cake baked in the United States was made from scratch. Cooks hand-sifted their own flour, carefully measured out the ingredients, and lovingly slaved over their delicious creations. But the P. Duff & Sons company changed all of that by introducing a pre-made cake mix. Thanks to shifting consumer habits, the company found itself with an overabundance of molasses. To avoid wasting this resource, they found a way to dehydrate it and combine it with other pre-measured ingredients to produce a cake mix. Marketed as a convenience, the product was an instant hit.

But not everyone flocked to buy this new creation.

For serious cooks, using a pre-made mix could not be considered baking. Housewives especially felt guilty for taking shortcuts with their family’s food. Still, the idea caught on and other companies began perfecting their own brands of mix. As women began entering the work force during the Second World War, the time saved using pre-packaged food helped cake mixes become mainstream.

But following the war, as families once again turned to the dinner table, sales of cake mixes flattened.  Research revealed that cakes baked from a box just didn’t taste as fresh as those made from scratch. In search of better tasting fare, consumers were abandoning the mixes. The culprit, it turned out, was the dehydrated eggs. Using fresh eggs helped give a cake texture while the powdered version in the mix left them flat.

Removing the dehydrated eggs and changing the recipe to have the cook add their own fresh ones solved that issue, but the struggle wasn’t over. In the 1950’s, the cake mix industry faced another decline in sales. A wave of individual expression left cooks desiring a personalized approach to baking. Cakes from a mix all looked the same – and that was boring. Luckily, some smart advertising helped provide consumers with tips for turning the basic cake mix product into one-of-a-kind creations.

Regardless of the nature of change, there will likely be opposition. For most of us, it’s hard to imagine passing over the convenience of a pre-packaged cake mix. However, the challenges faced by this one product line illustrate why just about any change can be difficult to implement. While the outward symptoms appear to be different (rejection of a new process, taste preferences, and a desire for individual expression), at the core lies a single cause for resistance to change – loss of control.

Like gravity, the need for control is a constant pull. Every decision is affected by that pull. Any change in behavior either gives us more control or takes some away. Changes that result in more control tend to be accepted readily – we like making those adjustments. But changes that force us to relinquish control are harder to accept. The desire to be in control is so strong that, even if we know the change is ultimately for the better, we tend to first consider what we have to lose.

This is a key concept to keep in mind when rolling out any new process. Despite the benefits of a change to product features, what will your customers believe they are being forced to give up as a result? What about your employees? What control will they perceive is being taken from them as part of the latest procedure change?

It’s easy to view organizational change as a simple project when you’re the one calling the shots. As with any communication effort, the key to success is considering how others will interpret your words, your actions, and ultimately, your intent.


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