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How India drove Cadbury away from sustainable packaging.

Updated: Dec 11, 2021

I am not sure if you feel the same but the excitement of tearing off the paper wrap and peeling the gold foil off Dairy milk to take a bite directly from the bar still remains to be an unparalleled feeling for me.

I remember my mother having a tin can of cocoa powder from Cadbury that she specially saved to make chocolate cake but I always wanted to open that can and dunk the powder straight into my mouth. No spoon.

So, here it was, the infamous Cadbury brand, beloved by all, becoming almost a necessary household brand, in its full glory…until the 2003 incident happened.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, here it is in short. There were reports of finding worms in Dairy milk chocolates. News channels started reporting this incident and ended up creating a massive panic among consumers leading to completely cutting off the brand for a short period. A brand established close to two centuries before this incident was facing backlash unlike anything they had seen before.

Cadbury tried to explain their end of the story by assuring that their manufacturing process was high end and the mishandling happened on the retail side. The FDA however did not buy the argument and blamed it on Cadbury's poor packaging.

This is where things began to change. Cadbury handled this downfall really well. They re-introduced the chocolate in new heat-sealed plastic wrappers and marketed itself again at a massive scale winning the trust of Indian customers again. An incident that would have wiped any other brand off the shelf but Cadbury did everything they could to win their customers back. Success story, right?

If you watch the following video created by Pearlfischer Design Agency which recently redesigned the Dairy milk packaging for Cadbury, you will notice that until 2004, Dairy milk was either sold in cardboard box or paper wrappers with foil wrapping the chocolate.

Ever since the 2003 incident, Cadbury fully turned to plastic wrappers for the packaging of their biggest selling product. Unfortunately, not just in India but worldwide. Until this incident, Cadbury was one of the biggest sustainable, environment friendly brand, unconsciously. But the incident led them to become one of the biggest pollutants because of the single-use plastics in their packaging.

You may retort and say, ‘How could you blame India for that? Or even the brand for that matter? They wanted to make food safe for their customers and they took action immediately to control the damage.’ And I would agree with you. I don’t blame India for this change, but the incident did happen in India leading to the change (also I needed the title to trigger you to read further), and I don’t blame the brand either.

It’s just that we are 18 years past that incident. Since then, the global plastic crisis has increased multifold and is an emergency to deal with right now. So, I believe there is a need to talk about this now more than ever.

In Sep 2021, Mondelēz (Parent company of Cadbury) released a statement that they will start new packaging for their products which will contain 30% recycled plastic. They also said that they will slowly increase the investment into the same and intend to reduce the use of virgin plastic. So, they solved it, right? They are more environment friendly now? Again, not really.

Let me shortly explain to you the concept of recycled plastic. Once it is recycled for second use, it cannot be recycled any further. So, the recycled plastic will still go to landfill, break into micro-plastic particles, get mixed in ocean, be eaten by fishes and other creatures that will end up in your plate and you will end up consuming the exact same micro-plastics. Scary? Yes, you better be absolutely terrified coz I am not even talking about the biggest polluting brand on earth.

What is the solution here then? The answer is simple. Mondelēz needs to switch all its packaging from any sort of plastic (virgin or recycled) to compostable/biodegradable alternatives. With the increasing urgency over the global plastic crisis, innovative eco-friendly alternatives for plastic have increased as well. Stone paper packaging is one that I could think of.

I’m sure you wonder, why did I target to drag Cadbury into the sustainability court when I know that there are bigger pollutants out there to deal with. I am so glad you asked!

Here are some of the main reasons why I chose Cadbury in particular.

  • First and one of the main reasons is that if they could run for close to 200 years without using plastic, they could do it again.

  • Mondelēz is currently established in 9 mega markets in the world including USA and Canada. A sustainable change from their company will encourage other brands in the same market to follow the lead.

  • They were quick to make the shift from paper/card wrappers to plastic wrappers within a year when the 2003 Dairy milk scandal broke out, they can do a fast shift again.

  • Cadbury adopted tin/steel cans for their beverage mixes and such before it was cool. They could innovate again to use steel/tin/paper containers for their products instead of plastic sachets and wrappers.

  • Dairy milk is just one of the products under Cadbury. They have more than 100 varieties of products in India alone and close to 350 types of products currently in the market in UK. If all of these products discontinued the use of plastic, imagine the difference this brand will be making towards a better environment.

I am aware of the many brands that need to bring a massive change in their operation, but this brand already did bring a change to keep the consumers happy and I believe if we share this message with them again, they could do that again. I trust that Cadbury cares about its customers more than the profit it makes. And I hope they move back to sustainability consciously this time. This one post may not bring a huge impact, and I don't even expect the brand to take notice but you could share it with someone who is in food product industry and influence some change. Cadbury is not the only brand that needs to bring change, after all.

In case, you are a food/lifestyle business trying to do your part in having a sustainable packaging for your brand while giving it a premium look and feel, I believe I could be of some help and we should talk more about implementing your vision asap. How about you reach out to me, here and we get started on the same?

Looking forward,

Jayshree D.V


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