Mondelez International has rolled out one cost saving measure this week that’s impossible to hide, with a change to the size of Toblerone bars in UK sending the internet into a spin.
The change, which involves spacing out the peaks of the Swiss chocolate to reduce the weight of each bar, was announced in mid-October. However, outrage has only recently made its way around the globe as punters post images of the new product, which looks visibly different but is at the same price point.
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— John Prescott (@johnprescott) November 8, 2016
Manufacturer Mondelez International said in a social media statement last month that while the company has tried to carry increased ingredient costs for as long as possible, it was forced to make the choice to lower the weight of each bar in order to ensure “Toblerone remains on-shelf, is affordable and retains the triangular shape”.
But thousands of customers have pointed out not only that the shape is a key part of the product, but the change does alter the appearance of the bar. Some have asked why it wasn’t possible to make the bar shorter and keep the original design.
This is not the first time the international company has stirred up chocolate eaters with a product change – it caused a similar backlash in January 2015 when Mondelez-owned Cadbury changed the recipe of its Crème Egg.
The 400g Toblerone bar produced in the UK will now weigh 360g, while the 170g bar will now weigh 150g, although it’s unclear whether the changes will make their way to Australia or other regions where Toblerone is distributed. Mondelez International has faced challenging conditions, and its recent financial results for the third quarter, filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission at the end of September, saw the company reference the possible impact of Brexit on its profitability and concerns over a drop in the pound against the US dollar.
“The implications of Brexit could adversely affect demand for our products, our financial results and operations, and our relationships with customers, suppliers and employees in the short or long-term,” the company said.
Revenue for Mondelez was down 6.6% for the quarter across all regions, and it lost 3.2% in the European region, with management highlighting challenging market conditions in the space.
Toblerone brand power and outrage
Created in Switzerland in 1908, the Toblerone chocolate bar has been marketed as a quality and accessible European treat and gift for more than 100 years – and this image makes a product change like this even more difficult, say experts.
The brand has a number of holiday special editions and sales, which a number of customers have referenced over the past week as they draw on the nostalgia for the old product.
Brand adviser Michel Hogan says such a conspicuous product change demands a strong story, which the parent company should have built well ahead of time.
“When it’s that dramatic, it’s not the sort of thing that where you can just put it in market place and hope nobody will notice,” she told SmartCompany.
“If they did think that, then they were really stupid.”
The brand has always been eager to engage with customers on social media, including jumping on holidays and pop culture events. For instance, on November 3, the brand posted a picture of a Toblerone cake to coincide with the 21st birthday of US media personality Kendall Jenner.
Given the brand has high visibility, the narrative around the change has to go beyond simply money saving, says Marketing Angels director Michelle Gamble.
“For Toblerone, their product is really iconic for its shape, and you’ve got to be really careful when people are attached,” Gamble says.
“Companies are in business to raise a profit – I think consumers get that – but if you can explain why it’s harder to make a profit, that helps.”
“Maybe they want to ensure they buy fair trade chocolate or something, I don’t know – but often when you explain things in a logical way, it’s easier.”
Hogan believes companies run into real problems when the need for higher margins hit up directly against a consumer’s need for value, and any messages on change have to avoid that clash.
“I think where you get into trouble is where your interests in making money, and my interest in getting value for my money come into conflict,” she says.
“If you’re making a change that in turn saves the consumer money as well then that’s one thing, but if you’re not you need to find a better story.”
It’s that very conflict that seems to anger customers more than anything else in this case.
“It’s totally dishonest, to charge the same price but make it 10% smaller! Fed up of the same trick pulled within the industry!” said one long-time buyer on Facebook.
A spokesperson for Mondelez International told SmartCompany the 400g Toblerone bar had its size reduced to 300g earlier in the year and the new size has been sold in Australia since May. But while the weight has been reduced, “the shape fundamentally remains the same”, the spokesperson said.
“Change is due to a number of factors, including higher commodity costs – which have been a challenge across the industry for some time – and a change in foreign exchange rates, which led to a considerable production cost increase in Switzerland,” the spokesperson said.