How to Lodge a Consumer Complaint

Spring Grove Soda Pop Inc.

In the past on The Simple Dollar, I’ve talked about how to lodge a complaint against a company if you’re truly dissatisfied with a product. I’ve always wanted to do a case study of such a complaint, but I’ve never had an experience severe enough to cause me to get involved.

Until now.

Spring Grove Lemon Sour old and new

Pictured above on the right is a bottle of Spring Grove Lemon Sour soda, made by the Spring Grove Soda Pop Inc. of Spring Grove, MN. It is a small company which only sells their beverages within a 100 mile radius of Spring Grove, MN.

Spring Grove Lemon Sour is, without a doubt, my single favorite soda in the world. It has a sublime fizzy taste that mixes the sour of a ripe lemon with just a hint of sweetness. It is the only kind of soda I drink with any consistency. Every three months or so, when we visit family within the Spring Grove Soda distribution area, we stock up, buying several packs to take home with us.

Over the past weekend, we were driving home from a wedding in Wisconsin when we stopped at an IGA in La Crescent, MN for diaper changes and bathroom breaks. While there, we decided to stock up on the Lemon Sour, but when we found it, the Lemon Sour had drastically changed.

Let’s see that photo again.

Spring Grove Lemon Sour old and new

On the right is a bottle of the Lemon Sour I’ve known and loved for years. Notice the white color. On the left is what we purchased in La Crescent, MN a few days ago. Notice the yellow color.

It wasn’t the color change that was the problem, though. The flavor of the one soda in the world I really enjoyed had completely changed. It went from a sublime fizzy lemony sour flavor with just a hint of sweetness to something that tasted like watered-down Mountain Dew.

Needless to say, I was extremely unhappy with my purchase. I gave bottles of the “new” Lemon Sour to a few people in the area who had yet to try it and the reaction was universally negative. What happened to a wonderfully distinct local brand?

I decided this was the perfect opportunity to put everything I had learned about registering consumer complaints to the test.

Consumer Complaint Tactics

Call The Company

I placed a phone call to their customer support line at (507) 498-3424 (found on the contact us page of their website). I simply stated that I was unhappy with the change in formulation. The kind lady I talked to said I was not the first person to call about this and that they were fully aware of some unhappy customers, which bodes well for some type of resolution.

Why do this? It’s a direct and immediate way to let the company know what you think of the product. It only takes a few minutes and can be done from virtually anywhere.

Mail (and/or Fax) a Letter

I wrote a letter to Spring Grove Soda Pop Inc. Here is the text of that letter.

Dear sir or madam,

I have been a long time fan of your Lemon Sour soda beverage. It is the only soda that I happily drink with any regularity and it is a constant part of my pantry. Although I do not live in your distribution area, I visit several times a year and each time pick up multiple cases of Lemon Sour.

On June 26, 2010, I visited an IGA in La Crescent, MN to purchase an allotment of Lemon Sour to take home with me. I discovered that Lemon Sour had been reformulated. It now had a yellowish color (compared to the original white color). When I tasted it, I was very disappointed. I discovered that the wonderful fizzy sour (with a touch of sweet) flavor I had come to love over the years had been replaced with an overly sweet imitation of Mountain Dew.

I do understand why you may be selling the new beverage as its sweetness may be more attractive to some soda drinkers. However, I implore you to bring back the original flavor of Lemon Sour. I will not be buying the new formulation. I also have many friends and family members within your distribution area who are also disappointed with the change.

Perhaps you can continue making the new flavor and distribute it as well under a new name while bringing back the original Lemon Sour flavor and formulation.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

If you’d also like to write a letter, their mailing address is:
Spring Grove Soda Pop, Inc.
215 2nd Ave NW
PO Box 337
Spring Grove, MN 55974

and their fax number is (507) 498-3424.

Basic style points for writing this letter:

1. Keep the letter short and concise. There’s no reason to be excessively long. A short letter is much more likely to be read.

2. Make the facts clear and straightforward. I stated when and where I purchased the new formulation so that if it was merely a test run, that would be clear to the letter recipient.

3. Suggest a simple resolution. They could continue making the new beverage under a different name (a la New Coke becoming Coke II) and restore the original flavor.

4. Start extremely positively, noting how much you’re enjoyed their product in the past. I am a long time customer and I’ve always been happy with their Lemon Sour flavor.

5. Remain diplomatic and courteous and leave out the sarcasm. They made a business decision that I’m unhappy with. There’s no reason to not be diplomatic about it.

>Why do this? A handwritten letter can provide clear documentation for the company as to the desires of their customer base. Quite often, diplomatic handwritten letters from people who have never written before can get the serious attention of the company in question.

Start a Facebook Fan Page

I started a Facebook fan page entitled Bring Back the Original Spring Grove Lemon Sour! and encouraged people I know from that area on Facebook to join the group. I posted basic information about the change and will let people know anything I find out about reverting back to the original formula using that group. If the group picks up a lot of fans, I’ll send a link to the group to the folks at Spring Grove Soda as encouragement for reverting to the old formula.

One key is to use this type of platform to share methods of contacting the company, such as providing their phone number and their mailing address, to people who might also register a complaint.

Why do this? It allows a person to collect a list and a count of people who agree with the sentiment as well as distributing methods of giving the company feedback. If this page (with a number of fans attached to it) is sent to the marketing director of a company, raw numbers like this can make a convincing case that a lot of customers care about the product and want to see changes.

Write About It Publicly

Well, frankly, you’re reading it. I don’t have access to a much more public place than The Simple Dollar, with hundreds of thousands of readers. I’m almost positive that at least some readers out there have tried Spring Grove Lemon Sour in the past and, hopefully, are also disappointed in the change or are at least aware of it. Such information may encourage them to take action as well.

Why do this? It spreads the word in an extremely public fashion. While I am lucky enough to have a very public platform to use, almost everyone has access to at least some sort of platform to write publicly about it. Start a blog or write a guest entry for a blog like Consumerist. Use fan messageboards. You can start a Facebook fan page, as I did above, if you have no other platform available to you.

Will Lodging a Complaint Work?

My plan is to give it a month or so and see what happens with my various methods of lodging a complaint about this change. Let’s consider this a test case in how to lodge a consumer complaint. In a month, I’ll report back to you with notes on the success and failure of the various tactics tried.

If you’re upset by the change to Spring Grove Soda, please feel free to use any of the information above to contact Spring Grove Soda and express your unhappiness with this formula alteration. You can copy and paste anything from above, but I encourage you to alter it enough so that it can appear distinctive and reflect your own feelings on the matter.

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  1. Don’t waste time with the better business bureau. They are no help at all. I tried that route once.

  2. It is all about being honest with the consumer and making the necessary changes that need to be made

  3. KC says:

    I hate it when companies change a product. I remember a few years ago Wendy’s changed the sauce on their grilled chicken from a nice tangy honey mustard to some bland chipotle sauce. I didn’t complain I just stopped buying it. I stopped going there all together. I think they have since changed it back, but they’ve already lost my business. Same with Coke – they tried New Coke many moons ago. It basically stopped me from drinking soda at all as a kid. They changed back (to Coke Classic) but the damage was done – I’ve pretty much cut out soda since that point. At least you care enough to complain – hopefully you’ll get your drink back.

  4. AC says:

    Well done, Trent. Hopefully they listen. Out of curiosity, were you able to do a comparison of ingredients? What changed?

  5. Brandon says:

    We live in Rochester, MN and completely agree. Even as a little kid, the lemon sour was/is my absolute favorite.

  6. Kevin says:

    I’m surprised you didn’t bother researching the name of the company’s President.

    Also, I’m not sure your proposed resolution is “simple.” You’re suggesting that they essentially add a flavor to their product line. Retailers would need to give them more shelf space, or the company would have to devote less space to a current flavor. Either way, it’s hardly simple.

  7. Career Advancement Newsletter says:

    I’m a cream soda fan myself… but great “how-to” on delivering a consumer complaint!

    The Facebook idea is one I had not thought of before. I think a viral Twitter campaign, which could easily gather thousands of people, would work really well, too.

    It looks like the Internet will go a long way in making companies even more responsive to their consumers.

  8. Adam P says:

    Sounds like the should have done more test marketing before making the switch! Hope you get your soda back! However, now that you’re trying to lose weight, maybe this is a signal from Him that you’re meant to stop drinking soda altogether ;-) I’m sure you don’t drink much of it but sugary sodas are one of the worst things you can ingest if you’re trying to lose weight.

  9. I like the great use of the internet and your blog as a medium for trying to change the bad decision made by the “Spring Grove” company.

    I hope they revert back to the original flavor too, sounds like it’s a winner, and I hope some day a major distributor picks it up so I can try it too!

    I wonder if any close competitors that have a similarly flavored product?

    I also wonder if they don’t intend on using the original flavor if they would be willing to part with it…

    One final thought, and I don’t know if this is a good move or not. But, I wonder if you can influence their decision by leveraging a week or month (maybe even a year) of free advertising on your site if they go back to the original formula! It could be that the product isn’t catching on, so they are desperately trying anything to increase sales…

    Interesting problem, I’m hoping for the best for you! Good Luck!

  10. MusicLover says:

    There is a great little book on this topic called “Shocked, Appalled and Dismayed.” The author started her own business writing complaint letters on behalf of consumers. She has excellent advice, including suggested language for the letters and appraoches for specific kinds of complaints. The most helpful advice I found in this book was this recommendation: in the case of defective or dangerous products or unethical business practices, one should send copies of the complaint letter to relevant regulatory agencies such as your state attorney general’s office, the Better Business Bureau, the FDA, and so on. Seeing those cc’s at the bottom of the page creates extra accountibility and usually expedites a satisfactory resolution of the problem.

  11. Michelle says:

    I live in LaCrosse, Wis and agree that Spring Grove soda is the best. I don’t think I’ve ever had Lemon Sour but I’m sure my kids have. I’m going to pick some up tonight and check it out. We’ll have to sample the other flavors too.

  12. Johanna says:

    Please take this criticism in the constructive spirit in which it is intended:

    The post really could have done without the last paragraph. It makes the whole post sound a lot less like you’re explaining how to make a complaint (which can be interesting and relevant to all your readers, whether they care about the outcome of this particular complaint or not) and a lot more like you just want your readers to complain to Spring Grove so you’ll get your soda back (which can feel alienating to those of us who don’t live in calm-and-friendly country and hadn’t heard of this brand of soda before today).

    I’m sure that any Lemon Sour fans who happen to be reading and who happen to feel the same way about the reformulation as you do are also smart enough to know what to do without being hit over the head with it too many times.

  13. jim says:

    You’d have thought that companies would have learned the lesson from the ‘New Coke’ disaster.

    This is a little different kind of consumer complaint than typical. I think your process for addressing this complaint is just fine. But the same steps may not translate very well to other consumer complaints. For example, setting up a Facebook page or writing a blog may work if you’re campaigning a company to make a product or process change that impacts many customers, but if the local Midas shop botched my muffler job then that isn’t really something a Facebook page will work for.

  14. guinness416 says:

    It’s funny how deeply upsetting it can be to have something as trivial as a soft drink or a chocolate bar change recipe (or nightmarishly worse, be phased out altogether as happened with a few of my favourite junk treats from my childhood). Good luck!

  15. Trent Trent says:

    @Johanna: I simply wished to make it clear that if someone wanted to copy and paste the letter or use other information in this post, they were free to do so. My first words in that paragraph were “If you’re upset by the change to Spring Grove Soda.” I would think that people who have never tried Spring Grove Lemon Sour would not be in that category at all.

  16. WendyH says:

    @ Johanna, you’re implying that Trent asked his readers to go and complain on his behalf?

    My understanding was that he is allowing them to use what information he provided if they wanted to make their own complaint. I like that he’s provided information that is factual and shows how it the change affects the company financially, not just spewing negativity and anger.

    I’ve been disappointed at product changes in the past, but like KC, never taken time to act on them because I figured that I was the only one, my opinion wouldn’t really have any effect. I’m interested in seeing if this works out, maybe next time I’m unhappy with a change I’ll try and do something about it.

    @Jim, I’ve heard of people Twittering about negative experiences like yours and actually getting a response from the company, but I’m sure it depends on the company and what “word of mouth” format their clients follow.

  17. Kate says:

    Welcome to being a grownup. I mean that in all seriousness…my husband and I have learned not to get too attached to anything because that is simply the kiss of death for that product. I congratulate you, though, on taking time to complain about the change. It’s true sometimes that the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if there are enough squeaks change will come about. Good luck!

  18. Adam P says:

    @Kate, isn’t it super sad when products you’ve used since you first tried/bought it (years and years) suddenly go extinct? I didn’t have this happen to me until my late 20s and I remember feeling so cheated! I hoarded American Crew Thickening Lotion (a hair product i loved) because it was going out of business, even buying some on Ebay. It sucks. I hope Trent gets his soda changed back!

  19. Gretchen says:

    That’s the reason I stopped shopping at Trader Joe’s. I would love a product and they would stop carrying it.
    Over and over again.

    I’ve called/emailed companies many times before when the item I’ve gotten was faulty and they’ve always replaced it (a little different than this situation). I also balance it out by writing positive emails about stores/experiences I’ve liked.

  20. jim says:

    @WendyH: “@Jim, I’ve heard of people Twittering about negative experiences like yours and actually getting a response from the company,..”

    Yeah good point.

    (By the way the Midas example was just hypothetical, I haven’t dealt with Midas for any services )

  21. SimplySara says:

    I’ve never had this soda but I also hate it when companies discontinue or change things.

    However, if you are looking for a similar soda to replace the Spring Grove variety until they get their act together, you might want to try San Pellegrino Limonata. Based on your description of Lemon Sour I think it may be comparable. You should be able to find it in higher end grocery stores and my Costco sells it here in Southern California.

    I do hope Spring Grove changes their formula back because local, small-batch soda companies are becoming a thing of the past.

  22. CarolK says:

    Several years ago, I discovered that otherwise identical cans of Coca Cola, except that each came from a different bottler location, had drastically different tastes.

    I called Coca Cola headquarters in Atlanta, GA and spoke to a Customer Service person, who proceeded to get all the facts from me as far as the dates/places of purchase and exactly what was the difference in taste.

    She then explained that the taste of Coca Cola is heavily influenced by the taste of the local water which the bottler uses. While a consistent taste from different bottlers would be ideal, this is not possible, but that they would investigate this and they even sent me a follow-up letter (with several dollars worth of coupons, of course).

    My impression was of a company which genuinely cared about the quality of its product.

  23. Julie says:

    I think it’s good to write the company if you’re dissatisfied about a change in the product. I do that quite often. Some are more receptive than others, but I’ve found all of them want feedback from their customers.
    However, I also write companies when they put out a product that I really like. Hopefully, the positive feedback will keep them from changing the product or discontinuing it. Since most feedback is negative, I’m sure companies appreciate something positive every so often. (Plus, they often give me very nice high value coupons for their product!)

  24. Heidi says:

    Your multiple actions on the product and the steps are great!
    We live in Spring Grove and walk past the factory most days.
    This is a bit different from most sodas, if you look at the labels, many of Spring Grove Soda Pops are made with cane sugar–which is better tasting.
    Heidi

  25. Jen says:

    Another important thing to include in a complaint (or compliment!) letter is the lot or batch number (if applicable), especially with food or pharma products. Consumer goods companies are often required to keep records of individual batches; if there was a glitch with one, they’ll know whether that is the reason for your specific issue.

    This is just about the exact same format I followed when I wrote a complaint letter to Toblerone. Their variety pack contained only 4 dark chocolate pieces (my favorite) but 12 of their milk chocolate pieces and almost as many of the “the white one” pieces (white chocolate isn’t really legally chocolate in a lot of places). Not a very balanced “variety”.

    I was fully expecting either no response or perhaps an apology letter. Instead I got a check (not a gift certificate, but a check to cash and spend anywhere–even on somebody else’s product) to make up the cost of the variety pack. I was pretty impressed. Especially since Toblerone variety packs were on sale at the time, so I feasibly could have gotten 2 packs from the check they sent.

  26. Carey says:

    I’m going to write a letter to Samuel Adams today, letting them know I am disappointed they didn’t make any White Ale this year – it’s their spring seasonal. Although I like the replacement in their seasonal line-up (Noble Pils), I still miss the White Ale.

  27. E.J. says:

    I enjoy your work.
    My experience with a product that did not live up to my expectations was my Maytag washing machine. I have had many new machines but, the one in question was a real lemon. By chance I bought a five year additional warranty,(I usually don’t). This machine had five transmissions in three years before I kicked it to the curb.
    When I called Maytag(Whirlpool)my complaint fell on def ears. That was five calls.
    My next course of action was similar to others in this post. I voted with my wallet. I will never buy another Maytag/Whirlpool product again.

  28. Rose DeShaw says:

    I was in line at the supermarket when an elderly gentlemen ahead of me collapsed. It seemed as though it was a heart attack. The checker reacted immediately, calm and professional, alerted a second clerk to step in and assist the man who was not unconcious, called 911 with no hysteria, called the manager quietly who arranged for another checkout to open up, all the while letting those of us waiting in line sympathetically that things were okay. There was no fuss or embarassing the poor fellow. I was so impressed, I went right home and wrote a letter of commendation to the company and thought no more about it. About a year later, I was admiring a pin on the shirt of one of the checkout clerks when she looked at me closer. “It’s YOU!” she said. “You don’t know what happened, do you?” Turned out the man survived so that was all right. But then company brass came down and in a special ceremony, praised the trio who had handled things so well and given out these pins, all on the strength of my letter. The staff had discussed who might have written it, ever since and today she remembered seeing me in line. Kinda gratifying. Sometimes they really DO get it! p.s. When I come in and the lineups are long, all of a sudden that manager decides to open up another check-in, right beside me. He’s never SAID it was because of my letter but it’s an interesting coincidence, eh?

  29. Katie says:

    I am looking forward to seeing how this develops. I like your idea of making a case study out of this.

    The thing that conerns me in a minor way though, and maybe you had a reason for doing this, is that you’ve used all your arrows at once. Fairly reasonable that you’d follow up a phone call with a letter, and because its The Simple Dollar and you’re making a case study out of it I can understand why you wrote about it here. But, with having already made a facebook page and written about it publicly (if we weren’t making a case study), do you have anything else up your sleeve incase your letter gets ignored?

  30. Charlie says:

    My opinion is that you should try to put the change of this little niche soda pop into some rational perspective. You are obviously pretty emotionally wrapped up in this, and spending a great deal of your time (=money) and energy on it. Seems really peculiar for an otherwise well-adjusted adult. Things change, products come and go based on business conditions, people adapt, life goes on. How about you find a new soda that you like. Or ask yourself if there’s a potential issue with your level of emotional attachment to “stuff,” in this case a frivolous, sugary beverage. If so, why? Also, fwiw, I think the tone of your letter comes off as really pompous, hyper-serious and weird. “Sir or Madam…the only soda I happily drink…part of my pantry…purchase an allotment…I implore you…” etc., etc. You sound really stilted and borderline freaky. Again, I think you should really try to move on from this, put it in some rational perspective and learn from it, and learn from your reactions. Thx for the oppty to give my opinion. Best of luck.

  31. Matt says:

    Perhaps I’m too cynical these days, but, in general, I would expect a satisfactory response from a smaller company (such as Spring Grove Soda). But with larger companies, I’ve observed that results can be hit or miss with situations like the one Trent described here.

    For example, let’s take an informal survey: what do TSD readers expect would be the outcome if the company in question was *Comcast*, rather than Spring Grove Soda?

  32. Daniel says:

    Trent, the actions you describe in this post have all the hallmarks of political activism – but guess what – it is about a soda! Don’t you think that all this energy could be better used to fight for something that you really care about and makes a real difference to people’s lives? You could create a facebook group to advocate in the fields of education, transport, environment or any other topic that matters to you, instead you choose to campaign about a soda. I think it is completely perverse to get worked out about consumerism to such an extent. In any case, why not just drink water?

  33. Carey says:

    Of all the comments you could have made on a blog today, Daniel, you made this one. Why? Because you felt it was important.

    Everyone has different passions, and different things that are important to them. Everyone has different interests and hobbies. Expecting someone to have the same ones as you, and at the same moment in time is going to end up disappointing you in the long run.

  34. LMR says:

    Makes me think of the plot of the movie “RV.” I wonder if this company was recently taken over by a douchy corporate entity. I searched for press releases, but didn’t find anything, so maybe it was just a horrible internal decision.

  35. melanie says:

    I had a similar problem this year. I bought a few bags of my beloved Necco Sweethearts mini conversation hearts (you know, the ones with the little messages on them?). They were completely different. All new colors and BAD flavors, even the texture was different. I returned the unopened bags. I wrote a letter to the company. I received a response indicating that there was a new big-wig in the company and she had decided to chnage the formula (after DECADES of the original formula, a true classic). It was basically “Sorry, it’s been changed. Hope you like it.” She was kind enough to suggest I search dollar stores for last year’s unsold stock and I was lucky to find 4 bags left at my local Family Dollar. I just polished off the last bag and I actually felt SAD that I will never be able to eat another heart.
    Good luck, Trent!

  36. Kevin says:

    Seriously… how long does comment moderation require? I submitted a comment (from a different IP address)the morning this post published, and it still languishes in the moderation queue. ??

  37. Blayne says:

    Label is wrong!

    Spring Grove has a Lemon Sour and just a plain Lemon. Was in Spring Grove 3 weeks ago and purchased both kinds. Give the small company a break!

  38. Blayne says:

    Oh and do a little research before writing a letter to the company! They are a good company just made a labeling mistake. I bet your face just turned a shade of red. No prob! I’m here for you!

  39. Sterling says:

    What a smart guy you are Trent!

    You bought the Lemon Soda with the wrong label on it. Spring Grove has two kinds of lemon soda. Lemon Sour and Lemon Soda. The only thing this company is guilty of is falling asleep at the labeling wheel. I can tell you are a BIG fan of Spring Grove soda. Real fans know the difference.

  40. Mary says:

    My boyfriend’s dad is from Spring Grove MN. Nice town. I tried the soda once, it was very sugary. I’m not a soda drinker myself, but I could definitely taste the mass sugar they put into it. Didn’t know they deliver it within a 100 mile radius of the town.

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