Friday, 6 June 2014

Cadbury Malaysia in hot water over pig DNA found in ‘halal’ products

Cadbury has recently come under fire in Malaysia after traces of pig DNA were detected in two of their product lines during routine checks for non-halal substances, conducted by The Malaysian Health Ministry.

Considering that Islam is the most practised religion in Malaysia, and that those practising this religion are forbidden to consume pork or any pork derivative, it is fairly understandable that the country would be in uproar following this discovery.

Cadbury products being withdrawn from shelves in Malaysia (Source:MalayMailOnline)

From a marketing perspective, this situation presents a very difficult position for Cadbury, because the brand loyalty that they would have nurtured in this market (and many similar to it) could quickly diminish if consumers begin to see this mistake as a betrayal of their trust in Cadbury, and of their religion.

In a statement posted on Cadbury Malaysia’s Facebook page, they mentioned that:

“We at Cadbury Malaysia understand that customers are disappointed to hear of the news on the recent test by the Ministry of Health on two of our products.

We understand how important Halal is to the Muslim community. It is also of the highest importance to us here at Cadbury. Ensuring that all our products made here in Malaysia are Halal is something we take very seriously.

We would also like to reassure you that [aside from those products affected] all other products made in Malaysia are not impacted by this test. We greatly appreciate your patience as we work through this matter.”

What I wonder about this statement, and others that have followed it, is whether they are enough to reverse the damage that has been done to their brand image.

McDonalds, for example, has been haunted by ‘urban food myths’ for years, including some that I myself often wonder about. For example, whether there really is pig fat in their ice cream. You may recall a recent campaign that was launched by McDonalds Australia to debunk these food myths, but the reality is that when people start believing that something is true, it’s often hard to dissuade them otherwise.

In a fairly recent interview, McDonald’s CEO, Catriona Noble, noted that:

"[McDonalds has] done a lot to bust myths ... but even in our own lives we come across people [who believe them] .... we've made ads that tell the truth and people still don't believe it."

In Cadbury’s case, this is no food myth, but rather a disturbing reality for the people of Malaysia. Even after the situation cools down, we can expect that Muslim consumers in this country are likely to second guess their next Cadbury purchase, regardless of the original product category that was contaminated, and regardless of how long ago this scandal occurred.

For our purposes, it will be interesting to see how Cadbury plays its cards next, and whether their efforts will be enough to reverse the damage; or at least contain it within the country for now.

Salil Kumar
Current student in the Master of Marketing program at the University of Sydney Business School

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