Brand breakdown

It really shouldn't mean so much.

Should it?

The price and size of a block of chocolate. The shape of an Easter egg. The number of lollies in a bag. The style of wrapping around a bonbon.

These are ostensibly trivial matters, yet they speak to both the endearing (concerning?) relationship many New Zealanders have with their favourite treats and how a company can repeatedly shoot itself in the foot, causing significant damage to its reputation in the process.

Cadbury is at it again, following its desertion of Dunedin with a series of mis-steps to create what can now be termed a full-blown confectionery crisis.

Public outcry has followed several recent decisions of the candy-making giant that, far from delivering a hit of sweetness, have left a rather sour taste in the mouth.

First came the rejigging of the classic Roses box - "reinvented" flavours found no favour, and the new style of twist-free wrapping sent customers round the twist.

Then, just months later, an announcement family blocks were to shrink, apparently due to rising costs, and family lolly bags were also to reduce in size.

Finally, the hammer blow. Cadbury revealed its marshmallow eggs were set for a radical redesign. In fact, they were no longer to be egg-shaped but would be a sort of half spheroid. Old equipment from the mothballed Dunedin factory had been replaced with shiny new stuff in Melbourne and someone's bright idea of reinventing a classic.

A kind observer might give Cadbury - or, more accurately, Mondelez International, its American multinational owner - some wriggle room on these issues.

On the rising tide of an obesity epidemic, it is incumbent upon us all to do a much better job rationing our intake of junk food, and a confectionery company might expect to earn some brownie points for what could be shaped as a bid to do just that.

And it is a company, remember. Cadbury does not exist to please the people, or to perform some sort of vital public function. It exists solely to make money for its shareholders, so why do we expect anything else?

The problem is this all feels like a bit of a betrayal, like a sporting hero fleeing to another team or a treasured television character turning evil.

Cadbury's recent history is the story of the fall of a once-beloved Kiwi brand. A trusted brand, too. For six straight years, from 2005 to 2010, Cadbury was literally named New Zealand's most trusted brand. It was the Sir Edmund Hillary of chocolate.

Now? After shutting its Dunedin factory and messing with marshmallow eggs and killing off the Snifter and experimenting with palm oil, Cadbury's reputation in this country has plummeted. It is the Edmund Blackadder of chocolate.

Its fall has been a boon for rival Whittakers, named New Zealand's most trusted brand for the past seven years, and for two local success stories, Dunedin craft chocolate maker Ocho and Oamaru's Rainbow Confectionery.

Cadbury should have learned a powerful lesson. You mess with people's sweets at your peril, and regard for a brand built over more than a century can erode very quickly.


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