It seems that once more something indigenous to Britain is under threat from an American invader: the Cadbury Creme Egg, as we know it, is about to go the way of the Red Squirrel!
I haven’t much of a sweet tooth but still I enjoy a few Creme Eggs, just as we have as a nation since the 1970s. They are so loved as an Easter treat that Cadbury sells, in one form or another, some 200 million of them each year. Of course, much of the delight comes down to the wide variety of ways to eat them. Personally, I like first to bite off the top of the egg. I then use a finger to scoop out the gooey centre before proceeding to try and keep it on my finger while I eat the chocolate and finally turn to the creamy insides.
I never gave the chocolate much thought. In fact, and I’m willing to bet that it’s the case for most of us, I had no idea that the chocolate used was Cadbury Dairy Milk; indeed, I didn’t realise Dairy Milk was any different to their normal milk chocolate, assuming it was just a brand name. Apparently this is not the case. Instead, what we are about to have as the hard outer shell to our Creme Eggs is Cadbury’s standard milk chocolate, not the Dairy Milk shell that we all love.
This change matters – it’s the chocolate treat that so many in the nation eat
Some of us probably won’t notice the difference, but all chocolate purists, chocoholics and chocolate bingers certainly will. Already the changes the American owners have made to the Cadbury’s offerings have been noticed, and I suspect mainly with displeasure: bars are smaller but no less expensive. But why this change matters the most is that it’s the chocolate treat that so many in the nation eat. We either don’t eat chocolate that much or we have our favourite bar that we eat constantly but, come Easter, we eat a Cadbury Creme Egg.
I’d put this down to it being tied to an event in the year and its scarcity after that event; it’s the whole “get them now or wait a year” rush that means we all enjoy one at Easter at some point in our life. And, with its link to Easter, there is the added collective memory of family and togetherness, much as the now discontinued Cadbury chocolate coins meant family, stockings and Santa Claus. Such collective memories are powerful, even when created by marketing men, and you can’t mess around with them; if you do it can only end badly.
Memories are linked to sounds, sights, smells or taste; if taste changes, the memories are gone, and, when the consumption of an item is built on past memories, once they are gone the product no longer has meaning, and can easily be put aside and forgotten. This is what Coca-Cola hadn’t realised when it launched New Coke. The new product may even taste better, but it doesn’t have that connection to the individual anymore – hence why New Coke quickly died. Cadbury’s press team tell us that the new version of the egg has been tested on consumers and they like it. But I don’t care. I have no connection with this new egg. Frankly, the connection was already waning last year when I saw how small the Creme Egg had become – it didn’t have that same feeling of weight and solidity in your hand. Its presence was almost gone.
You can’t escape the thought that it’s about the bottom line
If anyone believed the change was about making it taste the best it possibly can, then one might forgive it, but I doubt anyone does. Surely the change is all about profit? Cadbury has always been seen as a company that produces the best quality product it can, so you have to ask: if the old version of the egg wasn’t the best, why wasn’t it changed before now? Then, when you consider that the eggs are now smaller but the same price, you can’t escape the thought that it’s about the bottom line. It was one of the major concerns when Kraft bought Cadbury and, shortly after, despite promises to the contrary, they shut a factory and more recently laid off 200 or so employees. These are actions that appear to have been about cost cutting and increasing margins, as Cadbury was and still is highly profitable. They’re changing to a chocolate that’s cheaper to produce.
The most expensive ingredients of any milk chocolate are the milk and cocoa butter, and Cadbury Dairy Milk has a higher milk content than the chocolate it’s being replaced by as the shell of the egg. While it’s true that the cost of ingredients has been rising and understandably the company wants to protect its margins, the extent of the changes makes it seem that they have gone further than is necessary to just maintain them. Surely shrinking the egg or price rises could achieve this.
We should spare a thought for American consumers – but all pay attention to the situation in the UK
For the moment at least we are protected to an extent against the quantity of cocoa in our chocolate dropping too far as a cost cutting measure. By law in the UK chocolate must contain a minimum of 20% cocoa solids, while in the US it’s 10%. As you can imagine, the lower the cocoa percentage, the lower the quality of the chocolate. This has meant that, for some time, the import of UK chocolate into the US has been a niche but valuable trade for those wanting a higher quality version of the British bars produced under license in the US by Hershey’s and others.
In the US, the Creme Egg is produced by Hershey’s, and is smaller with lower quality chocolate than the British one, even after the changes, so we should spare a thought for American consumers. In the past chocolate lovers in the US have had access to imported British chocolate, but this is about to stop, with Hershey’s successfully halting the trade with legal action.
Dark days may be ahead and we should all pay attention to stop the situation getting worse in the UK. After all, the greatest concern would be if the US owners of Cadbury, Mondelez (an offshoot of Kraft), lobbied the government now or in the future to change the law on cocoa solid percentages to enable them to cut or contain costs further, and in doing so spoil our favourite chocolate bars and memories through inferior chocolate
Image: Abdul Hussain