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Bournvita crisis Ken 2023 - Copy

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5/5/23, 3:58 PM
Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower
Cut to now.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), a government body, has
written to Mondelez India asking for clarification on the ingredients in Bournvita and told
them to withdraw their ‘misleading ads and labels’.
That isn’t all:
Additionally, the NCPCR has written to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India
(FSSAI) and the Central Consumer Protection Authority to take action against
companies not complying with food safety and advertising guidelines. The NCPCR has
urged all bodies to submit a report on the steps taken in this matter within a week. The
NCPCR has also raised concerns about the lack of disclaimers in Hindi and other
regional languages and the unclear nutritional information in additives marketed as
"health drinks."
5/5/23, 3:58 PM
Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower
This vigorous reaction against a brand that has been in existence since the 1940s is
because there are now three narratives that did not exist when Bournvita first became a
household name.
First, sugar is the enemy. Especially so in India, which is now considered the diabetes
capital of the world. Second, social media influencers are a thing, their reach and virality
greater than at any other time in the past. Third, whistleblowers are the good guys.
And Mondelez India finds itself on the wrong side of all three.
Let’s unpack.
The rise of the influencer whistleblower
The short 1-minute video posted on Instagram by the handle foodpharmer was sharp,
precise, and damaging. It went through Bournvita’s claims, such as it leading to stronger
bones, a more active brain, better immunity, and being a ‘health drink’. And countered with
how its ingredient list is dominated by sugar, chocolate, and colouring that could cause
The pointed message was: Bournvita wasn’t a health-first product, but a sugar-andchocolate-first product. The Instagrammer asked parents to not introduce their kids to the
drink and the government to act on its misleading messaging.
The video went viral, and was seen by several million people, before the handle took it
down after being served a legal notice by Mondelez India.
5/5/23, 3:58 PM
Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower
I need you to remember that nothing about Bournvita’s ingredient list had changed to have
stirred up this story. Yet, there’s no denying its import. Some have already called it
Bournvita’s Maggi moment.
If you don’t remember, here’s a recap:
It was in 2014 when food safety regulators from the Barabanki district of Uttar Pradesh
reported that samples of Maggi Noodles had high levels of monosodium glutamate
(MSG) apart from high lead content above the permissible level. At the time, the
5/5/23, 3:58 PM
Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower
labelling on packets of Maggi Noodles indicated that it had no added MSG…Nestle was
left with no choice but to recall the popular snack from the market. Between June 5 and
September 1, 2015, nearly 38,000 tonnes of Maggi Noodles were recalled from retail
stores across the country and destroyed. Maggi’s share in the Indian market went down
from 80 per cent to zero.
A storytelling classic. The emperor, someone is finally calling out, isn’t wearing any clothes.
Granted, there is evidence to suggest that added nutrients in processed food could improve
immunity (leading to strong bones and brain). But how do the pros and cons balance out
when it comes to sugar and added nutrients? Are brands that claim the ‘healthy’ tag really
that healthy?
Last year, in a deeply reported story, we argued that even packaged foods which claim to
have ‘no added sugar’ often add natural or lab-processed sweeteners for taste and flavour.
And some of these are really not healthier choices.
Faced with these questions, Mondelez India has been on the defensive.
The company said Bournvita is best consumed with a glass of 200 millilitere of hot or
cold milk as highlighted on the pack. "Every serving of 20 gm of Bournvita has 7.5 grams
of added sugar, which is approximately one and a half teaspoons. This is much less
than the daily recommended intake limits of sugar for children," said Mondelez India, the
company which owns popular brands such as Cadbury Dairy Milk, 5 Star, Oreo cookie
and Gems.
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Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower
But public discourse hasn’t just been limited to how many grams of sugar are in Bournvita.
What about trust? Mondelez India had promoted Bournvita as a health drink, as do many
other large companies who tack on the ‘healthy’ tag without really talking enough about how
much sugar is in their products.
Dr Abby Philips, @theliverdr on Twitter, an hepatologist and clinician-scientist working at
The Liver Institute, Rajagiri Hospital, Kerala, has argued that the claims of scientific
methods or studies and the scientific evidence for everything that is written on the
Bournvita product are not backed by good evidence. "Cadbury's claims are misleading
on muscle and bone growth, immunity enhancement and brain development - there are
no controlled studies to show the same," he claimed…"What people do not realize is
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Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower
that even a "healthy probiotic drink" like Yakult has total carbohydrates 11.5g of which
11.2g is added sugars. Even the light version is not sugar free," he wrote.
Again, none of this information is new. The World Health Organisation, in fact, asked
countries across the world in 2015 to take measures to reduce sugar consumption among
their populations. Even the fact that popular regular food could include cancer-causing
ingredients is known. In a summary document, Medical News Today says that countless
cancer-causing chemicals, such as preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes, may
be present in processed foods.
Mondelez has been so combative and defensive in its response, though, that its actions are
widely being seen as bullying:
While Modelez's legal action compelled the influencer to take down the video, the
malted drink brand was trending on Twitter as people thought that the company had
gone wrong in its approach. Many looked upon it as an act of bullying by the
multinational foods company. Doctors and nutrition experts, however, are standing up in
support of the creator.
All the actors have remained unchanged in this story, but the audience has definitely
changed. India’s consumers are now ready to hear alternate voices on popular food
products and are concerned about corporations abusing their power against whistleblowers.
They also care a lot more about the ingredients in their food.
There is also an African proverb: until the lion learns to write, every story will glorify the
The lions are now writing.
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5/5/23, 3:58 PM
Indian Institute of Management Tiruchirappalli Mail - Mondelez vs the influencer whistleblower