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.