Can taste survive a takeover?

Observations on Polish chocolate

In Poland, political systems have come and gone, foreign powers invaded and retreated, wars been won and lost. But one thing has survived for 150 years: E Wedel, the chocolate brand once described as "a sacred national treasure". E Wedel is to Poland what Cadbury is to Britain and the Hershey's Milk Chocolate bar is to the US. Every fourth bar of chocolate sold in Poland is E Wedel.

But does it still taste the same? Sold to PepsiCo in 1991 and subsequently to Cadbury Schweppes (whose local subsidiary is now Cadbury Wedel), has it survived foreign ownership? Many Poles think not. The wrapper on my E Wedel "Czekolada Mleczna" bar tells me that it contains sugar, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, cocoa mass, hazelnut mass, milk fat, emulsifier (soya lecithin) and flavour (ethyl vanillin). It has a minimum of 30 per cent cocoa solids. According to Food Business Review Online, a free web service offering company intelligence by "global industry experts", this is not the traditional recipe. It has been changed "to make the chocolate taste remain for longer in the mouth". And it is true that the current brand slogan for E Wedel stresses "long-lasting chocolate pleasure".

But when I put all this to Peter Knauer, managing director of Cadbury Wedel, he insisted that the original recipe is un-changed. "When new companies buy brands, you will always find people who say that 'it isn't like the old one' independently of the product. It's very common to hear consumers say this because environment and expectations change. But it's not something that usually reflects the reality. We have added new values to this wonderful Polish brand, making Wedel a much stronger brand than before."

Perhaps the problem is one of confectionery imperialism: Poles think E Wedel no longer tastes the same simply because it is foreign-owned.