Mars chocolate recall: What we know and don’t

By Joseph James Whitworth contact

- Last updated on GMT

Mars recalls chocolate in more than 50 countries
After Mars recalled different brands of chocolate in more than 50 countries due to potential plastic contamination, attention is now turning to the how and why of the incident.

We sent media requests to four press contacts and have now heard back from one but it doesn't seem we are going to be getting any answers. The only difference from the below statement is: 'There is nothing to add at this stage'.

So we don't know how this happened and got past whatever critical control points Mars has or solidly when (although early January has been reported). We also are unclear on what will happen to all the recalled product, how much of it there actually is and measures it will put in place to stop a repeat. 

What we do know

However, Mars did release a statement saying a small piece of red plastic was found in one Snickers bar purchased in Germany – allegedly last month.

Covering food safety news for me is the day job and I have to admit I have been surprised at the scale of the reaction to the Mars recall. As far as we know (at the time of writing) one person has found plastic in chocolate - granted that is one too many but for a recall of this scale, kudos must go to Mars for quick and decisive action.

This is not the same as recalls for horse meat or the Nestlé Maggi issue or any other past issues in chocolate (and there have been some). But if we attempt to compare, the scale of reaction has been similar to horse meat in the news coverage across the board and while Nestlé Maggi had its own microsite to give as much clarity as a business could it was a longer issue with different factors. Mars has made the recall and after initial consumer and monetary impact that may well be the end of it (seems so from the response to our media request) - except for the occasional archive search.

I put together a weekly food recall gallery and plastic (and other) contamination happens a fair amount - I point you to the related news on this article for a small insight. Mars was the subject of one of these very recalls last year with Galaxy chocolate in the UK. But Nestlé, McCain and Mondelez have all issued recalls due to plastic product contamination. One incident is one too many, it is quite evident Mars produces a lot of chocolate at its Netherlands plant, so it is a timely, if slightly painful for Mars, reminder for all food manufacturers that it can happen to everyone.

It said the decision to recall such a long production period across such a wide breadth of countries was to ensure all potentially affected products were retrieved.

We believe this was an isolated incident, but we’ve made a precautionary decision to voluntarily recall a number of Snickers, Mars, Milky Way and Celebrations products​,” said the firm.

While the number of Mars products affected is limited, they have been shipped to numerous countries outside the Netherlands, including some duty free retailers.”

The products were made at its factory in Veghel, Netherlands and only those labeled with "Mars Netherlands" are affected.

They were manufactured between December 5, 2015 and January 18, 2016.

For a list of all affected countries and details on some affected products see our initial story here​.

Euromonitor and law firm view

Jack Skelly, Euromonitor International’s confectionery expert within the packaged food team, said whilst there will be a noticeable decrease in sales due to the recall and reduced stock listings in the short-term, any decline is likely to be temporary and less steep than many people believe.

“Barring any more troublesome revelations, Mars has quickly and effectively nipped this in the bud,” ​he wrote in a blog post​.

“The company’s reputation is damaged, yes, but consumers tend to have a fuzzy memory with regards to these high-profile scandals; another food scandal will come along and Mars will no longer be at the forefront of public attention.

“In the long-term – and somewhat less glamorously – this will impact the logistical side of the business a lot more.”

Food sector solicitors, Roythornes, estimate its could cost the firm millions.

Roythornes, which specialises in the food and drink sector, said the work involved in the recall – the logistics of it, PR impact of the crisis, potential legal costs as well as the potential repercussions of lost sales and stock, could add up to an enormous financial hit.

Peter Bennett, from Roythornes, said it thinks the cost could potentially run to millions.

“Simply getting the products off sale and the logistics and communications involved in that, along with writing them off and losing out on potential sales is one thing," ​he said.

“However, the potential legal and PR costs along with the possible reputational damage and the effect that could have on investor relations and the value of the company is another thing altogether.

“It just goes to show the importance of being prepared for such eventualities and, as we learned from the Roythornes Product Recall survey last year, around a fifth of food and drink companies are operating without a product recall plan. That’s a scary prospect and I expect this incident may act as a wakeup call.”

  • This article was updated when Mars responded to our media request

Related topics: Chocolate, Mars, Regulation & Safety

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