The dirty yoghurt lid puzzle
We all know that yoghurt sticks to the lid on those small tubs. Some of us even lick them off, rather than politely scrapping it off with a spoon. A few weeks ago, I noticed that there was no yoghurt stuck to the lid when I opened my daily breakfast tub. "Strange", I thought, maybe the yogurt was frozen during transport, so didn't think on it again. A few days later, I found another tub with no yogurt stuck to the lid. Wondering if I was on a lucky streak, I commented to my wife I should get a lottery ticket. When it happened a third and a fourth time, I realized this was not luck, but by design, as it was only happening with one brand of yoghurt.
Chemical engineering experimentation
Given my background as a Chemical Engineer, I decided to do a little experiment to find if the lid had been treated to become hydrophobic. My first experimental observations was the surface of the lid wasn't the usual smooth consistency, then a few drops of water confirmed my hypothesis. Cutting the long story short, a little snooping on Dr. Google confirmed the facts for me with this short video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1P9ZPABj_0
You may be wondering why I am waffling on about such a minor issue. Of course the technical concept of learning from nature (the lotus leaf) appealed to my environmental pollution control background, but the other comments in the video were more interesting. Various actresses voicing the words of Japanese customers complaining about the "trouble" of dirty lids..... so the yoghurt company unilaterally decided to find a solution. Trying to exceed the customer expectations? Trying to increase sales by something different and/or better? Certainly the improvement was not reflected in the price, a normal business expectation to re-coup money spent on R&D, as the price is on par with other tub yoghurts at the supermarket. Maybe sales volume increased, but I have no confirming data on that.
Japanese cultural background
For me, it provides us an excellent example of omotenashi, that fuzzy Japanese cultural concept, so badly oversimplified in translation as "hospitality". One needs to looks deeper into the definition for all to become clear. Omotenashi represents unrequested/unexpected actions to put the customer first, by providing detailed customer service in multiple unseen manners, allowing guests (customers) to spend a relaxing and memorable time or more convenience.
So there you have it, omotenashi keeps your yoghurt lid clean at no cost to you, whilst keeping peace in millions of households without you even knowing!
Author: Dr. Garry Bickle