Retail

Coles angers vegan community with change to blocks of dark chocolate : “What the hell were you thinking?”

Emma Koehn /

Supermarket giant Coles has sparked the ire of vegans and shoppers with dietary requirements, amid claims the formula for supermarket’s ‘Coles’ branded blocks of dark chocolate has been revised to include milk solids.

Shoppers started to call the supermarket out over the weekend on social media, with thousands of Facebook users reacting to the news that the chocolate blocks — a favourite treat of the lactose intolerant and vegan communities — suddenly contains milk products in the ingredients list

Several complainants told Coles their households purchased multiple blocks of the product each week, both because of the Fairtade certification of the item, which shoppers say has also now disappeared from packaging, as well as its status as one of the most affordable vegan chocolate products on the market.

“I’m deeply disappointed in this,” said one Facebook user, asking for a reversal of the change. His post has now garnered more than 4000 likes and reactions from other fans of the item, who say they now cannot purchase it because the ingredients do not match up with their ethical and allergy requirements.

“My heart is absolutely BREAKING!”said another shopper. “I’m not vegan, but I’m quite intolerant to dairy and the discovery of your dark chocolate allowed me to still enjoy one of the finer things in life”.

“What the hell were you thinking?” said another fan.

On Monday morning Coles had not put out an official explanation to shoppers about the change and the retailer did not respond to SmartCompany’s request for comment about the changes prior to publication.

The Coles online shopping portal advertises the 200 gram variety of the product for $2.50, and the accompanying product image includes a Fairtrade label on the front of the packet. However, images of the new packets shared on social media over the weekend do not have the Fairtrade marking on the front.

Small changes to cult-favourite products have caused mass outrage over the past couple of years, from the change to the recipe for Shapes biscuits, which has since been reversed, to the alteration of Toblerone sizes and news last week that Tiny Teddy lunch-box snack packs were going to be packed differently due to power price concerns.

Branding expert Michel Hogan says with any change to a niche product or item that appeals to particular shopper requirements, like dietary needs, businesses should expect customers to be upset by sudden shifts in design.

Then there’s a different level of connection and expectation,” she tells SmartCompany. 

“Small businesses should keep an eye on what Coles does”

Hogan says the problem with consumer outrage against a big brand like Coles, however, is that even when a product change affects thousands of customers, it can be unlikely that the change will be reviewed.

“[The change] has got to cause an equivalent financial pain before they change their mind,” Hogan suggests. 

However, when a group of shoppers is concerned over the loss of a product they believe is essential, it’s a great opportunity for SMEs to offer a solution, says Hogan.

“Small business should keep an eye on what Coles does,” she suggests. 

Someone else’s misstep is always someone else’s opportunity.”

Smaller operators have the ability to cater to a niche group’s needs, and even if a product change doesn’t affect a significant chunk of the customer base of a big retailer, it still could be enough for a small business to start conversations and capture new customers.

“The ripple effect is an interesting one here: those three thousand vegans are going to tell ten people each about that product,” Hogan says. 

“If I was a vegan, I’d be putting out the call and saying, does anyone know another vegan dark chocolate?

“So if I was an SME chocolate provider with a vegan, fair trade chocolate in my arsenal, I’d be all over social media with this one.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.

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