Greenpeace has really stuck the boot in to Nestlé with its gory
Kit Kat video. How damaging will the campaign be and why just Nestlé? Beth Phillips reports
Have a break. Have an orang-utan's finger.
It's not a slogan that would get you a job in the Nestlé marketing department, but that's the gruesome message environmental campaigning group Greenpeace has been spreading across the web for the past 10 days as part of a hard-hitting global campaign to support claims that Nestlé is using palm oil from unethical sources.
The grotesque viral video, already watched by more than 600,000 people, features an office worker taking a break by eating a Kit Kat. But when he bites into the best-selling countline, it turns out to be an orang-utan's finger, complete with hair, nails and as he discovers when he bites into it blood. Lots of blood.
Greenpeace is targeting the food giant because of its association with Sinar Mas, Indonesia's largest palm oil company, which Greenpeace claims is illegally destroying the rainforests where orang-utans live. It also sent 20 protesters in orang-utan costumes to Nestlé's Croydon HQ last week and lined the route from the offices to nearby East Croydon railway station with billboards and leaflets.
Sinar Mas has a history of landing its customers in hot water. Unilever was visited by the same orang-utans two years ago, after a Greenpeace report linked the fmcg giant to the Indonesia-based supplier.
In December, Unilever cut its ties with Sinar Mas, joining a host of manufacturers and retailers including Kraft Foods, United Biscuits and Sainsbury's (see below) in announcing plans to ensure palm oil was sustainably sourced.
In December, Nestlé announced that it would use only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015, when sufficient quantities were expected to be available. And in hastily arranged press statements this week, the food manufacturer reiterated that it does not buy palm oil directly from Sinas Mas.
So why, then, is Greenpeace so hell bent on singling out Kit Kat? According to Greenpeace forest campaigner Ian Duff, Nestlé is being disingenuous: sourcing Sinar Mas through a third party, Cargill, whereas other manufacturers have already pledged to sever all ties.
Nestlé admits it does use Cargill as a supplier, but is deferring to Cargill, which is conducting its own investigation into the claims.
Cargill says it will delist Sinar Mas by the end of April if it finds the allegations to be true. But a message on Nestlé's global website claims it has already taken the decision to replace Sinar Mas with another supplier for further shipments.
Greenpeace's campaign is undoubtedly a blow for Kit Kat, which in January gained Fairtrade status. Doubtless Nestlé was hoping the ethical trademark would help build on the momentum of the past two years, with sales up 6.4% to £195.8m in the year to 26 December following a 19.2% increase in 2008.
Nestlé's crisis management team won't be having a Perfect Break any time soon, though. The food giant hastily arranged for the viral to be removed from You Tube because it was "an infringement of the visual identity of Kit Kat", only for Greenpeace to move the video to its own website.
And when thousands of people used Nestlé's Facebook site to vent their anger, a member of Nestlé staff posted sarcastic comments in reply, prompting further media criticism. The site is now being left unmoderated and at the mercy of protesters.
So will the campaign damage Nestlé in general, and Kit Kat in particular? Good news travels fast, but bad news travels at web speed, warns Brand Forensics founder Jonathan Gabay. "Living in a web 2.0 age leaves brands wide open to public opinion, and if the groundswell is big enough, brands can be affected."
Nestlé is accustomed to handling criticism, however. It has long been the target of Baby Milk Action, which claims Nestlé has broken babyfood marketing practices. But Nestlé has no plans to force Greenpeace to stop its campaign: "We think it's important to listen to the views of our stakeholders and consumers," a defiant spokeswoman has promised.
Palm oil policies
November 2007 Sainsbury's to use sustainably sourced palm oil in own-label food
October 2009 United Biscuits secures deal with New British Palm Oil for sustainable palm oil
December 2009 Unilever suspend all future purchases of palm oil from PT Smart, part of Sinar Mas
December 2009 Kraft Foods says it only buys fats derived from palm oil from sustainable sources
Greenpeace palm oil furore forces Nestlé into Facebook retreat (27 March 2010)
Hot Topic: Now Nestlé knows you can make enemies on Facebook as well as friends (27 March 2010)
Nestle battles Greenpeace over Kit Kat palm oil claim (18 March 2010)