Millions are preparing to tuck into chocolate eggs this Easter weekend, bought lovingly by family or friends or a treat for themselves. Each year, the nation’s favourite brands pack our supermarket shelves with their latest intricately designed eggs, produced as a feast for the eyes and the stomach. Behind the allure of brightly coloured packaging and fun designs, however, there is a growing concern that puts consumers’ health at risk, and can significantly damage a brand’s reputation.
Luxury chocolate brands have increased in popularity over the years as an increasingly health conscious nation look for high quality, organic alternatives. Sourcing the cacao beans to produce premium chocolate products however comes at a steep cost and leads to a higher sale price that a bargain hungry consumer may be put off by.
Counterfeiters have cottoned on to this and are attempting to cash in by using cheaper ingredients as substitutes. These fraudsters then go on to claim that the finished products are that of highly-recognised brands and household chocolate-producing names.
If a poor-quality imitation of a food brand makes it into consumers’ baskets and leaves a foul taste in their mouths, it can have a hugely negative impact on that brand. The impact can destroy a hard-won reputation and customer loyalty can be damaged very quickly, with businesses likely to suffer substantial financial losses as a result. Research compiled in 2015 by NetNames suggests retailers are losing between $300m and $400m annually to copycats and counterfeiters.
Proving that the devil is in the detail, fake packaging can sometimes be a tell-tale giveaway of fake food products. One counterfeit case saw a UK retailer come under investigation and fined when the milk chocolate and white chocolate Wonka Bars they were selling proved to be fakes. The knock-off goods were discovered as a result of a close inspection of the products’ labels, which revealed that the issue dates were incorrect, and the product line had been discontinued three years prior.
The good news is that new technology can also play a part in fighting against counterfeiting. For example, engineers are now developing 3D barcodes that can be inserted into products at the manufacturing stage. The idea being, since the barcode is not visible to the naked eye, it will be difficult to replicate the product.
Additionally, brands can take greater control over the supply chain and fight back against counterfeit goods making their way into the market. In particular, using RFID tracking chips in supply and distribution chains can help the struggle against counterfeit and grey-market goods infiltrating legitimate manufacturers and retailers.
Awareness should sit at the core of any effective brand protection strategy. Brands must proactively educate their customers so that they can identify and avoid fakes, as well as any known counterfeit operations they may be exposed to.
With chocolate remaining a much-loved treat enjoyed around celebrations and holiday periods, the risk of consumers falling victim to counterfeit chocolate products is only set to grow. Just like a box of chocolates, consumers are often unaware of what they are getting until it is too late, and their health has been compromised. It is therefore the responsibility of brands to take proactive steps to protect their customers, their intellectual property, and their reputation by implementing and enforcing a strong anti-counterfeiting strategy.