NOVEMBER 9, 2003
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 BT 500
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Gates Against Malaria
Bill Gates, who claims
to watch the efficiency
of each dollar he spends, has put down $168 million to
combat malaria.

Age Discrimination
The UAE wants to kick
all expats above 60 out
of their jobs. A fine
start to the IMF/ World Bank meet in Dubai, eh?

More Net Specials
Business Today,  October 26, 2003
Taste Of Real Life

The 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 products...

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.