Tony’s launches ‘iconic’ look-alikes in ethical cocoa campaign: ‘Your favourite chocolate can be made better’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

The challenger brand says it hit a roadblock trying to sell the look-alikes into UK retail. Image source: Tony's Chocolonely
The challenger brand says it hit a roadblock trying to sell the look-alikes into UK retail. Image source: Tony's Chocolonely

Related tags Tony's Chocolonely Mars incorporated Ferrero Mondelez International Nestlé Child labor

The challenger brand says it has struggled to roll out its limited-edition bars in the UK, claiming chocolate manufacturers pressured Sainsbury’s to delist the look-alikes.

Tony’s Chocolonely is rolling out four limited-edition chocolate bars in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and the US.

The bars are inspired by the ‘world’s most iconic chocolate brands’, according to Tony’s. Without explicitly indicating which look-alike mimics which bar, it’s not difficult to see a likeness to Nestlé’s Kit Kat, Mondelēz International’s Toblerone, Mars Inc.’s Twix, and Ferrero Rocher balls.

The look-alikes are part of Tony’s ‘Sweet Solution’ campaign, which calls on consumers to sign a petition supporting the need for human rights legislation. Such regulation is intended to hold companies legally accountable for modern slavery and illegal child labour in their supply chains.

Yet the newly launched campaign has already encountered roadblocks, according to UK and Ireland Country Manager Ben Greensmith, who told FoodNavigator its retail partner was pressured by ‘two big chocolate giants’ to pull the products off shelf.

Tackling child labour in chocolate

According to a recent National Opinion Research Centre (NORC) report, more than 1.56m children and at least 30,000 victims of modern slavery are forced to work on cocoa plantations.

cocoa 3000RISK
The Sweet Solutions campaign aims to raise awareness around child labour in cocoa supply chains. GettyImages/3000RISK

Challenger brand Tony’s Chocolonely aims to eradicate child slavery in chocolate through leading by example, inspiring change in others, and perhaps most relevant to its Sweet Solutions campaign, by raising awareness.

“The whole reason we exist is to eradicate child slavery,” ​said Greensmith. “You’ve got 1.6m children working illegally to provide cocoa, and, effectively, the big chocolate companies aren’t doing anything about it. We want to show that actually it can be done differently.”

The four limited-edition look-alikes are made according to Tony’s 5 Sourcing Principles: using 100% traceable cocoa beans, paying a higher price, strengthening farmer cooperatives, engaging in long-term direct trading partnerships, and focusing on cocoa quality and productivity to optimise cocoa yields.

“If we can make [look-alikes] using our five sourcing principles, then anyone can,” ​said Greensmith.

Admitting that this latest campaign is ‘probably a little bit more activist’ than Tony’s traditional messaging, the UK and Ireland lead said he hopes it will kickstart a dialogue around cocoa sustainability. “If that’s what it takes, and it stirs things up a little bit, and it starts the conversation, then that’s what we’ll do.”

Mimicking chocolate favourites

Tony’s limited-edition line has been designed to look and taste like chocolate favourites.

“These products are so iconic,” ​said Greensmith of the originals. “They’re something that…anyone who likes chocolate will have tried and will recognise. We want to show that actually these bars – people’s favourite bars – can be made differently.

“Your favourite chocolate bar can be made better and it doesn’t have to result in exploitation at the beginning of the value chain.”

Tony’s formulation team ‘worked their magic’ to create a ‘pretty much identical’ flavour to the original bars, we were told.

The shape of the chocolate, however, is a playful mix between Tony’s unequal block design – representing the unequal nature of the supply chain – and the classics. The Kit Kat look-alike, for example, is sold in irregular wafer fingers. The Ferrero look-alike is a mixture between Tony’s irregular chunks and Ferrero Rocher spheres.

naked choc
Tony's formulation team created near-identical flavours to the originals, we were told. Image source: Tony's Chocolonely

And inside each wrapper, Tony’s has included a link to its petition. All profits from the bars will be donated to 100WEEKS, an independent platform that uses direct cash transfers and financial training to assist women in escaping the cycle of extreme poverty.

Campaign ‘short-lived’ in retail

While the Sweet Solution campaign officially launched yesterday (25 January), Tony’s Chocolonely rolled out the four look-alikes into retail partner Sainsbury’s stores last Wednesday.

By Thursday, the chocolate bars had been removed from the aisles, Greensmith told this publication. “A day [after the launch], we had phone calls from our retail partner saying they’d been put under pressure by two of the big chocolate manufacturers and they’d been taken off shelf. So they were very short-lived.”

Tony’s is now in the process of reclaiming its Sainsbury’s stock for its webshop, where it plans to continue the campaign via its D2C channel. The campaign is due to last three weeks, but Greensmith said the 60,000 limited edition bars could well sell out ahead of schedule if sales figures from that first day in retail are anything to go by.

While Tony’s is ‘frustrated’ the line has been pulled, Greensmith said he also believes the exposure could encourage consumers to rally behind the campaign. “The fact that it’s been pulled has [helped to] elevate the noise of the campaign as well. And the reaction from consumers in the UK has been pretty incredible – it definitely seems to be getting traction.” ​ 

At the same time, the UK and Ireland head said the chocolate makers’ actions reiterate some of the problems in the supply chain. “In a way, it highlights the issue for us. It’s the big companies not…facing the problem and trying to avoid it. They’d rather spend their time squashing our campaign then talking about it, and we just want the conversation to start.”

Tony’s is also rolling out the look-alikes into Albert Heijn in the Netherlands, Delhaize in Belgium, and Whole Foods in the US. The limited-edition bars were officially launched into Albert Heijn just yesterday, where there have been ‘no issues’ so far, we were told. “They’ve held the line.”

Big brands respond to ‘eye-catching stunt’

cocoa BestForBest
Chocolate makers have responded to Tony's campaign. GettyImages/BestForBest

Three of the big brands responded immediately to a request for comment.

Swiss-headquartered Nestlé, which includes Kit Kat, Aero, and Yorkie amongst its chocolate confectionery, said it is well aware of the inequality that exists within the cocoa industry and is working with Tony’s on this ‘shared agenda’.

“This is an eye-catching stunt from Tony’s but behind the marketing lies a very serious reality,” ​a company spokesperson told FoodNavigator. “Child labour exists within the cocoa industry and, at Nestlé, we have been working for many years to help tackle it.”

The food giant claims to be the first confectionery company to introduce a comprehensive Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation system, and today invests ‘more than ever’ to improve the lives of cocoa farmers through its Nestlé Cocoa Plan.

“We are working with Tony’s Chocolonely on this shared agenda and we will stand with anyone who seeks to eliminate child labour from cocoa.”

Ferrero, too, highlighted its zero tolerance for child labour. “We source 100% sustainable cocoa, and our cocoa beans are 100% traceable to farms. This means we know exactly where our cocoa comes from and can identify and address issues in a very targeted manner,” ​a spokesperson told this publication.

“In addition, we support our farmers with our cocoa sustainability programme to improve their livelihoods and to protect children and communities.”

Ferrero is determined to prevent and eliminate child labour from its supply chains, we were told. “However, child labour in cocoa-growing communities remains a shared challenge for the industry, that no one is exempt from and no one entity can solve alone.”

Twix-to-Bounty maker Mars, Inc. said it welcomes Tony’s commitment to tackle child and forced labour, which it stressed ‘has no place in the cocoa supply chain’. The company’s Cocoa for Generations strategy is working to ‘fix a broken supply chain’, we were told.

“This is a complex challenge for the whole industry – we welcome opportunities for more robust collaboration to put farmers and their families first and, to go further and faster, we are calling for child and forced labour monitoring and appropriate governance legislation to help address the root causes of child labour in West Africa.”

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