Pieces of milk chocolate on white background

    Cadbury’s low-sugar alternative won’t appease the public health lobby

    20 July 2018

    Cadbury’s have announced that a new Dairy Milk chocolate bar with 30 per cent less sugar will hit the shelves next summer, but before you start panic-buying Dairy Milk, rest assured that the original will still be available.

    Glenn Caton, president of Mondelez’s Northern Europe division, said the new bar was ‘being offered as an alternative to, not a replacement for Dairy Milk’.

    He added: ‘It’s like Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero. Cadbury Dairy Milk doesn’t change, people love it. I’m not a clairvoyant but I’d imagine original Dairy Milk will always be on the shelves.’

    The reference to Coke is pertinent. While Lucozade, Irn-Bru and a few other trusted soft drink brands abandoned their original recipe, Coca-Cola stood tall and reminded the public that ‘we listen to you’ (‘… and not the anti-sugar killjoys’, they might have added). By offering choice, Coke‘s sales have been doing fine while Lucozade‘s sales nosedived.

    Like Cadbury’s, the makers of Rubicon have used the shipwreck of Lucozade as their lighthouse, reducing the amount of sugar in their main brand while rebranding the classic drink as Rubicon Deluxe. It turns out that consumers want choice. Who knew?

    The Dairy Milk reformulation is being portrayed as a triumph for Public Health England’s food reformulation scheme. Food and soft drink companies are constantly launching ‘healthier’ versions of their brands, with or without government pressure, but it seems likely that Cadbury’s new product is a response to Public Health England’s ludicrous targets. It was revealed in May that the goal of reducing sugar in the food supply by 20 per cent was being missed by a country mile. Shrinkflation remains the only viable method for much of the food industry, especially the confectionery sector.

    But now we have a 30 per cent reduction in sugar for a major chocolate brand. Are things looking up for Public Health England’s madcap scheme? Judging from this tweet from the BBC, you might think so…

    This misunderstands the targets and how they are measured. The government is not interested in how many low-sugar or low-calorie products are available to consumers. The companies are not judged on their ability to provide choice. They are judged on sales (or sales weighted averages, to be precise). If we don’t abandon the classic Dairy Milk for Victory Dairy Milk (or whatever it’s going to be called), Cadbury’s work will be in vain.

    Last year, Public Health England explicitly warned companies that merely offering ‘healthier’ alternatives will not be enough to satisfy them:

    Introducing new, ‘healthier alternative’ products with significantly lower sugar levels, and shifting sales towards these, will also help to achieve a change in the sales weighted average. However, it is important that action predominantly focuses on changing and reducing levels in the standard, everyday products that most people buy. Alternatives to the standard product, even after several years on the market, generally only account for a small proportion of sales and this is unlikely to change. It is our view that offering ‘healthier options’ when core products remain unchanged is unlikely to improve diets overall…

    It seems not to have occurred to PHE that ‘healthier’ alternatives only account for ‘a small number of sales’ because most people do not want them. Or perhaps they do know that but believe, like Oliver Cromwell, that the people of England should get ‘not what they want, but what is good for them.’

    Either way, Cadbury’s attempt to appease the new breed of puritans is doomed to failure. The ignorant nitwits of the ‘public health’ lobby think that the food industry can trick anybody into buying anything with advertising and a strong brand but, as Lucozade have discovered, this is a not true. Coca-Cola and Cadbury’s are all too aware that the consumer is sovereign. You cannot fundamentally change a trusted brand and assume that people will keep buying it.

    It is highly unlikely that consumers will shift to Victory Dairy Milk in sufficient numbers for the company to meet the 20 per cent target. Even if they do, Public Health England has further targets for calorie and fat reduction which the new Dairy Milk cannot help them with. (The new bar has ‘broadly the same calorific content as the original’ making it the perfect diet product for the era of idiots).

    Public Health England’s targets cannot be met because they require the consent of the public. People might like the concept of food reformulation in the abstract but the proof is literally in the pudding. If it doesn’t tickle our taste buds, we won’t buy it. Low-fat, low-sugar and low-calorie brands have been on the shelves for decades but, as Public Health England acknowledges, they have never been a match for the tastier originals.

    This is why the agency wants to get rid of the originals. If Cadbury’s think that they can appease Public Health England by offering people choice, they don’t understand the ‘public health’ lobby at all.