Monday, April 5, 2010

Haigh's is back in my good books, or: I receive a phone call

I should have written this post a couple of weeks ago when Haigh's contacted me again in response to my complaints. 

Upfront, I'll be clear: I still disagree with the conclusion that Haigh's has come to. I think they've fallen on the wrong side of conservative. But ... I now have a lot of respect for their methods. 

After my letters to Haigh's (here and here) I received an email asking if I would speak to a member of the executive management team. Thinking this could go either way, I agreed, and after playing a bit of phone tag I received a call from Susan. 
I liked her. She was nice. She was genuine. She was really concerned to explain to me their thinking at every step, and I respected the lengths she had gone to. 

My biggest gripe with the labelling chocolate/allergen issue was that it wasn't a legal requirement. Using my super-sleuth skills, I tracked through legislation and guidelines to try to find out exactly what was required, and as far as I could see, my dark chocolate frogs were being unfairly labelled and taken away from me. 

Susan gave me the background to Haigh's' (how do I apostrophise that one eh?) decision. In early 2009 Susan attended a training session which used the VITAL risk assessment tool (Voluntary Incidental Trace Allegen Label), which is recommended by the Australian Food and Grocery Council. (If you're more interested than I am, you can read about it here).  On testing Haigh's products they realised that if they applied the VITAL tool then they should be labelling milk as an ingredient in their dark chocolate. 

So I get this. As a company Haigh's chose to use a particular analytical tool which gave them this answer. It had nothing to do with their legal obligations and everything to do with their corporate  risk assessment decisions. In my view these are the actions of a company acting sensibly and responsibly. Apparently testing also showed that the level of trace milk in the dark chocolate varied so wildly that one batch to another would record ingredient-level or trace-level amounts. In Haigh's view it was not safe to label this variation as simply 'may contain'.

Susan also told me that she contacted the SA Department of Health for advice, as well as holding discussions with Anaphylaxis Australia (can you believe that parents with dairy-allergic kids will still give them foods that 'may contain traces of'? Crazy and reckless).

On the bright side, Haigh's is moving towards having a dedicated dairy-free facility. Not being a player on the scale of Cadbury this is a costly and time-consuming process, but I like that Haigh's recognises a need for it and is working towards it.

I still disagree about the ultimate outcome - I maintain that 'may contain traces of' should be a sufficient warning and is an accurate reflection of the product - but I accept that the VITAL tool renders a different result and that Haigh's has chosen, as a responsible producer, to use this industry standard. I stil want dark chocolate frogs. But I respect the process and the decision, even if I disagree with it. 

So there you have it - Haigh's have gained my respect for not only their risk assessment processes but also for the way in which they handled my complaint (I even got a follow up email to check I was happy with the outcome of the conversation). I am confident that Haigh's did what they thought was best for their business and customers, following consultation and due process. I don't like the lack of frogs in my life, but I can live with it.


steph said...

I am so sad I never had a chance to try these chocolate frogs!

Mandee said...

I think it's great they took the time to have someone speak to you and that they told you exactly what happened and it would be fantastic if they had a dairy-free facility. Maybe some other brands will catch on to the idea.

cupcakes said...

While I agree that this change in labeling is unneccessary and annoying, I am a bit confused as to why you won't eat them now. If the chocolate is being made in exactly the same way it was before (when it was deemed "vegan"), and only the labelling has changed, why aren't you happy to continue eating it? You wouldn't be consuming any more dairy than you were before OR supporting a company's dairy product. By not eating it, you are only showing a lack of support for their labelling decision, and you're missing out on a still-vegan treat that you enjoy!

Miss T said...

Hi Cupcake, and thanks for your comment.
Technically I could still eat the dark choc frogs, although of course I would never know if Haigh's decided to change their formula to include. Mostly I feel very uncomfortable about eating anything which has non-vegan items listed in the ingredients list, just because I happen to know something secret about the real facts. It's also the principle: I will happily eat foods which state "may contain traces of" because I know this is legal warning and refers to trace elements only, not the possibility that a whole ingredient may be present. But I won't eat foods that appear to actually contain dairy and where I have no way of knowing if Haigh's has changed anything since I last spoke to them. Finally, I do not support their decision. I understand it and respect their right to make it, but I do not agree with it.
Cheers, R

Vanecessary said...

I still eat haighs chocolates and i'm a vegan. I think it's all up to you, if they are not purchasing milk for the product i am eating i am happy to consume it. But obviously all vegans are different. Their chocolate freckles are amazing though!