Nestlé takes a break from reality with KitKat

Swiss confectioners Nestlé cooked up a social media storm at the tail end of last week over Greenpeace claims that Nestlé uses palm oil in their KitKat product. The subsequent palm deforestation is destroying the natural habitat of the Orang-utans, who have been in those forests for a lot longer than humans have been munching on KitKat.

When this storm exploded last week, I thought I would comment immediately. It looked like a mess because Nestlé had chosen to focus on the fact that Greenpeace has been using distorted Nestlé branding – KitKat bars with the logo changed to Killer. The Nestlé administrators running their Facebook fan page were critical of grammatical errors in the messages used to criticise their firm.
But I thought I would at least wait a few days to see what the official Nestlé response would be… surely they would have a crack team of PR firefighters working on this and trying to:
  1. Refute the Greenpeace allegations that started this mess
  2. Rebuild their fan connections and empathy in their Facebook forum; a fan base of around 94,000 people
  3. Work with the global media to ensure that both 1 and 2 above are understood… 
But no. They pasted a Q&A on their website on March 18 and talked to the Guardian on March 19. That was it… No dialogue, just a Q&A sheet pasted on the website.
There are really two separate issues here. The underlying business issue is whether or not the palm oil used in KitKat (or their other products) comes from the Sinar Mas group, the supplier accused of deforestation.
Nestlé emphatically deny their palm oil comes from this supplier – they were used in the past, but dropped. They point to a history of responsible sourcing and a reputation for social responsibility – they helped to codify the regulations on responsible use of palm oil. They do concede that Sinar Mas may well be supplying other suppliers (such as Cargill) that are subsequently supplying Nestlé because of the fragmented nature of the palm oil business. However, they have stated that even if this oil is somehow getting into the supply chain and being passed from one supplier to another, they will stamp out this practice by demanding traceability of palm oil right back to the location of production.
So we could sit here and hurl rocks at “big bad capitalist” Nestlé or give them the benefit of the doubt, and work with the firm to try improving the sustainability of palm oil production. Nestlé accounts for 0.7% of global palm oil use, but Malaysia and Indonesia export the vast majority of the palm oil they produce, with over a third going to China and India.
Who is tracing those buyers and is anyone asking if they are so careful about the palm oil suppliers they use?
Then, there is the second issue, which is the one causing most debate on the social networks – the way the public have been treated.
What can I say about that though? It’s a case study in how to not treat your customers. The customers really are genuine fans of Nestlé products. It’s not a euphemism to say that they have 94,000 “fans” in Facebook – those people really are fans. They love the product and they can boycott the product, and start an anti-Nestlé movement online if they so choose.
Why did Nestlé start antagonising their own consumers online? Whoever was representing the firm and belittling consumers in a fan forum should be looking for a job before the end of this week. Plus… we all understand copyright and, yes, Greenpeace are obviously guilty of abusing your trademarks and copyrights with their KitKat mash-up – but threatening Greenpeace and your own consumers with legal action based on copyright law doesn’t help anyone.
Nestlé, it makes you look like complete idiots.
If you want to engage with consumers when selling them chocolate bars then also ensure that you engage with them when they have questions about the supply chain and the provenance of your ingredients. 

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Mark, some interesting points - I didn't realise they only had 96,000 people - its not a huge number, and not as many as I thought. Again proof of how we can blow things out of proportion. In my view, like most things in this social fad world, its like starting to roll a snowball on your own and then asking everyone on Facebook or twitter in the social bubble to help push to make it bigger. It has some good effects too, you get a bigger snowball!, but unless the issue is well presented and not simply a 'you cant do that..' then the snowball will simply melt and people will move on as quick as they joined to fix the next world crisis.. Just my 2c... More coverage here too: http://www.insidefacebook.com/2010/03/23/activists-use-facebook-to-help-pressure-nestle-on-deforestation-issue
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