If there is anything that might get otherwise congenial people fighting, it’s probably taking their chocolate. But that’s what is happening in some markets, and it has chocoholics all but rioting in the streets. Ronn Torossian explains the conflict, and explores the PR consequences of fighting the chocolate wars.
Currently, US chocolate heavyweight Hershey is locked in a legal dispute with LBB imports, a company that imports and distributes specialty candy products from Britain, South Africa and Australia. Hershey didn’t appreciate some of the products LBB had been bringing into American markets, and, initially, the company stopped importing these selections. Cue the enraged consumers.
Simply put, the decision to kowtow to Hershey has been trouble for both LBB and Hershey. Perhaps one of the most heated and specific responses came from New York retailer Tea & Sympathy, which specializes in British Goods.
Here’s what they said, via their social media page: “Due to legal action by the so-called chocolate maker Hershey, we can no longer import the real Cadbury chocolate from England. They want us to sell their dreadful Cadbury approximation, but we can’t in good conscience sell you such awful chocolate when we have made our reputation on selling you the yummy real English stuff.”
This is a nasty PR trifecta that could melt right into a full-scale chocolate crisis. First, an established and popular retailer came out and pointed fingers of blame at a specific brand. Second, the retailer gave angry consumers a specific item to rally around. Third, the retailer took the moment to rather forcibly compare its offerings to the American versions, which it unabashedly claims are inferior.
Why is this such a compounded PR issue for Hershey? Point one is that the retailer has given frustrated chocolate lovers a villain to hate. Then it upped the ante and offered a specific brand item to promote. You can already see the crème egg hashtags coming. Finally, the retailer gave consumers an opportunity to choose sides and an invitation to do so in a very public and obvious way.
Whether or not these three outcomes were intentional for the retailer or if they were just blowing off some steam online, the effect will be the same. People now have a venue on which to rally, a rallying cry and a totem to rally around. Brands have suffered PR crises when their opponents were armed with much less.