Special Report

18 Worst Product Flops of All Time

13. Breakfast Mates
> Company:
The Kellogg Company
> Year released: 1998
> Company revenue when released: $6.8 billion

In 1998, Kellogg’s introduced Breakfast Mates, an all-in-one package containing a serving of cereal, a small carton of milk, and a plastic spoon. The product was designed as a time saver that would appeal to on-the-go families with two working parents. Breakfast Mates was deeply flawed, however, as cereal is difficult and impractical to eat while on the move. The stated convenience of the all-in-one packaging did little to save time, largely because traditional cereal is already relatively convenient to consume. In a controlled test reported by The New York Times, preparing a bowl of cereal the traditional way took only one second longer than preparing a bowl of Breakfast Mates, a time savings hardly worth the product’s considerably higher price tag. To make matters worse, the product’s $30 million ad campaign sent a mixed message, depicting a family eating the supposedly portable cereal around the kitchen table.

14. WOW! Chips
> Company:
PepsiCo
> Year released: 1998
> Company revenue when released: $29.3 billion

In 1998, PepsiCo subsidiary Frito-Lay introduced its line of WOW Chips made with the fat substitute olestra. The chips were marketed as a healthier snacking option. Public perception of the product was initially in line with its advertising, and sales of the chips hit $347 million in its first year — the most of any new product in the United States.

Olestra turned out to not be the miracle ingredient consumers initially believed it to be and caused numerous adverse side effects when consumed, including diarrhea and cramps. This prompted the FDA to require all products containing the fat substitute to carry labels warning of “abdominal cramping and loose stools.” By 2000, sales of WOW Chips were about half of what they were in the year of their release. In 2004, a year after the FDA dropped its labeling requirement for products containing olestra, WOW Chips were quietly rebranded as “light” chips. While the label is no longer required, the chips still contain olestra.

15. Hot Wheels and Barbie computers
> Holding company:
Mattel / Patriot Computers
> Year released: 1999
> Company revenue when released: $5.5 billion

In 1999, Mattel announced that it had entered a licensing agreement to sell Barbie and Hot Wheels computers. The move was part of an attempt to reconcile the declining sales of Barbie dolls and growing sales of software and CD-ROMs. The computers would be manufactured and sold by the Patriot Computer Corporation, a privately held company based in Toronto.

Manufacturing flaws, however, forced Patriot to devote its resources to fixing the computers and ultimately drove it out of business. By December the following year, the company had fired its 200 employees and filed for bankruptcy — but not without taking thousands of unfulfilled holiday orders. To assuage the 3,100 customers who paid $599 for the Hot Wheels or Barbie computer and would not receive one, Mattel issued each customer a $100 gift certificate.

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