Kraft set to sweet-talk Britain

The company says if people saw its cuddly side, it wouldn't be so unpopular. But can the British public ever learn to love the business that brought us plastic cheese?

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Things have gone a bit quiet since Kraft, the company best known for Philadelphia spread and cheese singles, completed its £11.6bn hostile takeover of British confectioner Cadbury back in February. The company’s reputation took a dive after it reneged on a promise to save 400 jobs in Cadbury’s Somerville factory - and we haven’t heard much from it since. Until now, that is. Apparently, Kraft is determined to repair its reputation and win the nation’s hearts - and to kick off its campaign, Nick Bunker, the man who will henceforth be in charge of running the shop in the UK and Ireland, has given a series of interviews to British papers, saying that the UK business is the jewel in its crown. But will we ever forgive Kraft for taking Cadbury?

The merger turned Kraft into the world’s second largest food group, with sales worth $48bn (£30.8m). And its UK business has been coming along nicely since: underlying sales of Dairy Milk have grown by 12.8% (possibly thanks to various new versions of the bars it has launched), while the chocolate business was up by 5%. But that’s not the whole story: this year, the company has also faced criticism from spurned workers, as well as a stern rebuke from the Takeover Panel, which took objection to its decision to close the Somerville factory, despite assurances that it would save the jobs there. Its CEO, Irene Rosenfeld (recently named by Forbes magazine as the world’s second most powerful woman after Michelle Obama) also failed to win any friends in Blighty by refusing to appear before a Parliamentary select committee before the takeover, sending a minion to do the job for her instead.

Now, Bunker is charged with trying to persuade the British public that far from being an imperialist conqueror, Kraft actually has Cadbury’s best interests at heart. To start with, says Bunker, the company is turning the historic Bournville factory into its ‘global centre of excellence’ for chocolate, basing all its research and development projects there. So Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is to be spared. And Bunker insists that Kraft plans to leave the Cadbury recipe untouched. ‘If we decided to reformulate Cadbury and make it taste like Hershey, the nation would stop buying it overnight’, he told the Telegraph. He’s even been to Ghana with Fairtrade to reassure farmers that Cadbury (or rather Kraft) will continue to offer them fair pay.

What's more, Kraft boss Rosenfeld finally made it to the UK last month - she even spent several hours serving sandwiches (cucumber, natch) to the residents of a Birmingham hostel. But questions still remain over the long term prospects for jobs at Cadbury's UK locations, and it will take more than a corporate charm offensive to answer those.

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