last time the brand Cadbury was caught red-faced showing feelings,
with a pretty-young-thing dropping her inhibitions on a cricket
field, the market burst into applause. That was an instance of 'scripted
spontaneity'-rendered so by an ad agency for a TV commercial. This
time it's real: Cadbury has been caught, but neither red-faced nor
showing much by way of feelings. Worse, the brand has left consumers
with new inhibitions, and wondering how much space it has for grim
reality in its cosy cocoon of consciousness.
The brand has been caught with worms in its
Really, it must take some doing-to remain so
blasé, so self-assured, so beatific, in the face of the horror
that it is to have worms in anything you sink your teeth into, let
alone something so delectable as a bar of chocolate. Do note, we're
talking worms here-those familiar little nasty wrigglers that thrive
on rot. Not some infinitesimal traces of pesticide that only the
EU's impossibly sharp sensors can detect.
Worms, your honour, worms. In the dock, and
rightly so, is Cadbury India Ltd, the manufacturer of the chocolate
specimens recently found worm-infested by the Maharashtra Food and
Drug Administration (FDA). Known in better times as the local unit
of Cadbury Schweppes, a proud multinational with over 200 years
of brand heritage.
Really. The least the company can do is squirm.
Why the waiting game? And waiting for what? Sales dip reports? Consumer
agitation? More worms? London City's opinion? It has barely been
a year since Cadbury India delisted from the Bombay Stock Exchange
(BSE), and it's hard to believe that its sensitivity to domestic
opinion could have crashed so drastically so quickly.
It is standard pr fare by now that the first
response of a company in such a health-threatening crisis is of
utmost importance. Perfect isolation is never the answer. Nor, to
rub it in, is waiting an affordable luxury.
Waiting can be perilous. When Coca-Cola faced
a health crisis in Belgium in 1999, all that CEO Doug Ivester was
guilty of was waiting for medical confirmation of Coke's guilt-and
muttering a few things about its unlikelihood. The man could never
recover, and eventually quit. Meanwhile, corporate lore's model
crisis-handler remains J&J's one-time chief James Burke, who
responded to the Tylenol poisoning crisis of 1982 as if his own
children had been rushed to intensive care.
It is thus an unedifying instance to have Bharat
Puri, Managing Director, Cadbury India Ltd, respond to the worms
crisis by pointing a finger at the dismal storage conditions at
the retail level.
The company's factories, the media stands informed,
adhere to the internationally-okayed Hazard Analysis & Critical
Control Points (HACCP) programme, which delivers utmost hygiene
assurance. Of course, Puri concedes, the company's responsibility
does not end at the factory gates. The company stocks some 650,000
Indian retailers with its chocolates, and all of them are instructed
to store the products in "cool, dry and hygienic places".
The company has never insisted on refrigeration because its chocolate
formulation has been tropicalised to suit local conditions, a reason,
ironically, for its voluminous sales in India.
To be fair, that wasn't the end of it. In a
belated realisation that consumers hold the brand (and not shopkeeper)
responsible for their satisfaction down to the last dab of molten
chocolate (or whatever else) going down the gullet, it has initiated
a state-wide clean-up effort under 'Project Vishwas'.
Will this do? Most certainly not. Compared
to the unseen cola contaminants, these little creatures poking about
are quite incontrovertible by way of evidence. This cannot be brushed
aside with some Pepsi-style wit. This is a grave issue, and demands
much more than a few TSK-TSKs and inspections. Even apathy, at a
stretch, might be forgiveable. But failure to recognise obvious
self-interest? Catastrophic. If wriggling away from responsibility
is the general idea, you may as well follow the worms.