Who'd have thought it - one of the UK's best-loved, most trusted brands caught up in a contamination scandal? It would be like Mother Teresa being outed as a coke-snorting transvestite.
But, earlier this year, potential salmonella contamination proved ?a massive issue for Cadbury Trebor Bassett, and the subsequent product withdrawal is likely to have cost ?it £20m, even by its own estimates.
?A leak had been discovered at Cadbury's Marlbrook plant at the beginning of the year and tests revealed the rare montevideo strain of salmonella - but within ?levels CTB deemed not to pose a health risk.
It was not until the Health Protection Agency investigated a rise in the number of illnesses from the strain that the Food Standards Agency was alerted on 16 June. The laboratory contacted Cadbury, which ?informed the FSA of the possible contamination of seven of its products and began ?recalling a million lines.
In the immediate aftermath, Cadbury's handling of the issue came in for criticism? for the delay in coming clean?, and praise for its speed and openness once the contamination was revealed. Stories of sales dips and dented consumer confidence abounded, with some supermarkets reporting a 25% decrease in the sale of the company's products in the six weeks after ?recall.
Fellow manufacturers kept their heads down?. The prevailing wisdom seems to have been that any attempt to capitalise on the market leader's slip might turn it into a banana skin for the whole ?category.
As a buyer for one major distributor points out, health scares do not help the confectionery market, especially when added to "negative media campaigns on such issues as obesity".
However, the sales scaremongering seemed to have jumped the gun. Cadbury's head of customer relations Mike Tipping puts the blame for the temporary dip on a spell of very hot weather and the time of year and points out that rival manufacturers saw an even bigger decline.
?The company is not out of the woods yet though. Birmingham City Council is investigating the ?scare and expects to ?decide whether to prosecute later this year.
CTB is determined that retailers and consumers alike realise ?it has learned from the experience. "We've learned a very salutary lesson and we will not be taking consumers for granted," says Tipping.
He ?adds that the company has now overhauled its potential contamination policy and ?adopted the FSA's standards of zero contamination??. "We're not being complacent," he says.
Certainly a charm offensive, ?with a letter to 28,000 businesses apologising for the recall?, thanking them and giving an update on
its plans, did much to
endear the company to the impulse sector.
Tipping is also keen to point out that the NPD and launch programme planned for late summer and early autumn has gone ahead ?as intended. He says Cadbury's sales are ?outpacing the confectionery market as a whole and its nearest competitors, and are showing "exceptional resilience".
It has already rolled out new confectionery lines - a Highlights bar, a trio of Dairy Milk Melts and Flake Dark - put five of the recalled products back on shelves, and resumed its ?sponsorship of Coronation Street - but it has also increased media spend by £7m, including a re-run of the First Taste, First Love campaign and posters showing people interacting with the brand. "From a retailer's point of view, basket spend is likely to rise," adds Tipping.
Branding consultants also believe ?CTB will recover quickly, thanks to exceptional consumer affection?. "It is so deeply rooted in the minds of the British public that it will take a lot more than this to damage it," says Tom Blackett of brand consultancy Interbrand.? n