The introduction of lighter, more affordable versions of the Swiss-made chocolate for the British market has sparked indignation in the UK. Swiss versions will remain unchanged.
Mondelēz International, an American company that owns the Toblerone brand, had introduced a lighter and cheaper version of its “Matterhorn-peak”-inspired chocolates in September 2016 in the UK. It’s a fact that caught British fans by surprise recently, and they expressed their disappointment at the manner in which the brand has cut corners.
"This must be up there with the dumbest corporate decisions of all time," one Toblerone customer posted on social media. "You have a somewhat premium chocolate bar which is very well known for its distinctive shape, and to save money you change the shape? Now you have a premium-priced product that looks like a weird knock-off of itself....Shame on you, Mondelez."
Some blamed the cost-cutting measure on Brexit, the decision by British voters to pull Britain out of the European Union.
Mondelēz International denied Brexit was responsible for the change but blamed a variety of factors.
"This includes higher commodity costs which have been a challenge across the industry for some time. The significant drop of the Euro compared to the Swiss Franc that occurred in January 2015 also led to a considerable production cost increase in Switzerland," says the company.
However, economists believe sterling's slump since the June vote – it is down about 19% against the dollar and 16% against the euro – will lead to higher prices in Britain despite fierce competition between supermarkets.
Unilever was the first to move with an attempt to impose 10% rises on a host of big brands like yeast spread Marmite, Pot Noodle and Magnum ice cream last month, triggering a dispute with supermarket group Tesco.
Sugar prices have risen about 45% this year. Milk prices have also started to rise, boosted by a pick-up in demand and tighter supplies in the EU. Cocoa prices have been weaker this year but remain comparatively high after hitting a more than four-year peak late last year.
Two products have been affected: the 400g Toblerone bar is now 370g and the 170g bar has been trimmed to 150g. Without referring to the impact of Brexit, the brand claimed on its Facebook page that it was experiencing higher costs for numerous ingredients and chose to trim its product rather than increase prices.
While Toblerone fans in Britain were up in arms, social media users in the United States gave things a bit of perspective.
Price is the most important purchasing argument for British consumers, says Daniela Philipp-Sabelko , spokesperson for Mondelēz Austria and Switzerland.
“We decided to go for a lower weight and keep the original quality recipe in that specific case to make it affordable,” she told swissinfo.ch on Tuesday.
According to her, the lighter versions are almost all being exclusively distributed through Poundland, a cut-price retail chain in the UK. She also added that Mondelēz International has no plans to introduce lighter versions of Toblerone to the Swiss market.
Toblerone is exclusively produced in Switzerland at a factory in the capital Bern. Around 97% of the chocolate produced is destined for export, to some 120 countries, with the main sales channel being duty-free outlets.
Recent changes to “Swiss made” label requirements have meant that only those chocolates that source 80% of the raw ingredients locally will be allowed to use the label. The new changes come into effect on January 1, 2017 but companies have up to two years to conform.
However, the prospect of coughing up extra for relatively high prices of Swiss milk and sugar has not dissuaded Toblerone, or its parent company Mondelēz International. The so-called “chocolate law” ensures that the government fixes the prices of raw materials that are transformed into products destined for export. It also allows companies to claim financial compensation from the government for the transformed products (i.e. chocolates) that it sells abroad. Many see this as a form of unfair competition.
A Swiss original
Toblerone is a success story unique to Switzerland. In 1867, Jean Tobler opened a confectionary in Bern. Over the years, demand for his homemade chocolates grew to such an extent that he opened a chocolate factory in 1899.
In 1908, the Tobler family created the honey and almond bar that was destined to become an enduring symbol of Switzerland throughout the world. A year later, Toblerone became the first patented milk chocolate.
It was acquired by Kraft Foods - now Mondelēz International - in 1990.