SCHWEPPES Zimbabwe has come under fire for changing the ingredient formulation on the Mazoe syrups and Mazoe Orange Crush without informing consumers.
BY MTHANDAZO NYONI
Angry consumers have gone on social media platforms fuming and threatening to boycott the products forthwith.
The company recently changed its ingredient formulation on the two Mazoe brands to adopt one which it says contains less sugar and low calories or non-nutritive sweeteners.
But in doing so, the company did not inform the public through advertising in newspapers or any other media.
Their approach has angered consumers across Zimbabw, many of whom have taken to social media threatening to stop purchasing their products and moving on to their competitors.
“Schweppes Zimbabwe Limited, the least you could have done was to alert your faithful customers of your idea to reinvent Mazoe and get our buy-in. But no, it appears you decided to take us for granted,” wrote Thando Nkomo, a public relations expert, on his Facebook timeline.
“By not informing us in advance of your intentions to change a product which is by and large a part of our national heritage, you have shown us just how little you value our opinions and interests. Your response to queries about this change states that you conducted consumer taste testing. I suppose this was done in your labs,” he wrote.
Another Facebook user, Fidelity Chauke, said: “It’s utterly confounding.
“They paid someone a lot of money to kill a beverage of national pride. Maybe they thought no one would notice. From a PR perspective, I can understand why they were mum about the change in formula, there’s the historic example of ‘new Coke’ and how it was rejected by the American public even after extensive and aggressive PR campaigns.”
Ndagala Mpofu, a consumer and Facebook user, said Schweppes blundered by changing “a winning formula”.
“But honestly who changes a winning formula? I was in Zimbabwe last month and while there, my Zambian friends were asking me to bring them some Mazoe. Clearly, the brand has or in this case had regional impact,” Mpofu said.
A public relations expert, Lenox Mhlanga, said the company had blundered from a public relations point of view.
“My concern mainly is about the deafening silence that Schweppes Zimbabwe displayed over the issue although I understand why because Schweppes Zimbabwe are the bottlers and the brand belongs to Coca-Cola,” he said.
“What I suspect happened is that they were waiting for Coca-Cola to make a comment on their behalf. The issues of contents, I think, is the responsibility of Coca-Cola Corporation and I think they then passed the responsibility to them to make a comment.”
Mhlanga said Schweppes took too long to respond, meaning that at the end of the day the consumers were “left speculating as to whether the new ingredients were harmful or not and why they actually changed the ingredients which contributed to a change in taste without consulting them in the first place”.
“In the end, they now have to recover from that reputation relapse by giving the information which they should have given at the beginning. They should have been proactive to inform consumers about any changes that will take place,” Mhlanga said, adding that the company would suffer in terms of sales.
“Maybe Coca-Cola Corporation sees Zimbabwe as a very small market in terms of Mazoe and all the other products, but for the Zimbabwean market it has thrown away its advantage to competing brands,” Mhlanga said.
Another PR expert, Archibald Mathibela, said in the short to medium term, Schweppes would experience a dip in sales from the consumer backlash which will worsen their situation given that winter is a low beverage sales season.
“The company has gone ‘dark’ on social media and in the print media which may be understood to mean that they are ‘sitting out’ the crisis, perhaps banking on the pending elections to work in their favour in shifting the narrative and negative publicity away from their brand,” Mathibela said.
“However, the crisis could also cost Coca-Cola and Schweppes Zimbabwe some market share given the recent official opening of Varun Beverages as official licensees to Pepsi in Zimbabwe, renewing the two competitors’ quest for global dominance in the fast-moving consumer goods space,” he said.
Mathibela said there was also a growing market perception that Schweppes Zimbabwe and Coca-Cola switched the formula to lower production costs for their product to stay competitive by offering a seemingly “healthy” product compared to Pepsi.
“It is such negative perceptions that could prove the Achilles’ heel for the Coca-Cola brand in Zimbabwe in the short to medium term,” he said.
In the outlook, Mathibela said Schweppes or Coca-Cola should develop a crisis communications plan in the event of a catastrophe.
“There are always local considerations to be made when dealing with mature brands like the Mazoe Orange Crush product offering,” he said.
“Whilst obesity may be a cause for concern in developed markets, the Zimbabwean consumer has plenty of other healthy and affordable options and Coca-Cola needs to take this into account when implementing their Company’s Balance Calories Initiative (BCI) global programme,” he said.
Contacted for comment, Schweppes Zimbabwe marketing and public affairs director, Unaiswi Nleya-Nyikadzino referred Standardbusiness to the company’s frequently asked questions posted on their website.
On the frequently asked questions, the company said it informed the public of this change through product label.
“We have done so through the product label for your convenience and transparency. We take our consumers feedback seriously — kindly share your suggestions with us to enable us to improve,” it said.
“The sweeteners we use are some of the most thoroughly researched ingredients in the world, with scientific studies consistently confirming their use and safety. They have been confirmed as safe by globally recognised authorities and local regulatory bodies.”