Toblerone bar shrinks: sign of bad times in Britain?

British consumers were shocked and angered by the news that higher costs would mean a modified (smaller) Toblerone chocolate bar.

Darren Staples/Reuters
A new 150g Toblerone bar is compared with a traditional 170g Toblerone bar.

British customers don’t have anything sweet to say about a change to their iconic Toblerone chocolate bars.

Mondelez International, which manufactures the chocolate bars known for their distinctive peak shape, announced to customers in the UK that the bars they know and love will now have fewer peaks and weigh about 20 to 40 grams less, depending on the size of the bar last month. While several items in the UK have increased in price following the June vote to leave the European Union, Mondelez stressed that the alteration did not stem from Brexit but from rising commodity prices.

The new bars hit shelves in the UK this week, but will remain unchanged in other markets.

"We always work hard to ensure we offer value for money for our consumers, but like many other companies, unfortunately we are experiencing higher costs for many ingredients," a Toblerone spokeswoman said. "We carry these costs for as long as possible, but to ensure Toblerone remains on shelf, is affordable and retains the iconic shape we all know and love, we have had to reduce the weight of this particular bar (for the UK market)."

Both sugar and milk prices have risen recently, and Mondelez says its production costs have jumped in Switzerland – where Toblerone is made – after the euro dropped against the Swiss franc in January 2015.

In response, the company altered the bar's distinctive shape, widening the gaps between the chocolate mountains. Customers weren’t pleased with the change, and many took to social media to express their frustrations. “You have a somewhat premium chocolate bar which is very well known for its distinctive shape,” wrote Facebook user Michal Tat, “and to save money you change the shape?”

Others argued that Mondelez should have saddled consumers with the price jump rather than reinventing the product, but in many cases that tactic has been shown to have a more dramatic effect on sales.

"It's not as if people eat Toblerone every day,” customer Nicholas Barker wrote. “You could literally double the price and people would still buy it. Fools.”

Other manufacturers have raised product prices to combat the fallout of the Brexit vote, which has caused the value of the pound to drop 16 percent against the euro and increased the price of imported ingredients. Unilever and Apple, Inc., have both increased their products’ prices in the UK, and Microsoft plans to do the same with its own software by as much as 22 percent.

Despite rates of fierce competition among retailers, economists have predicted that the Brexit vote will continue to force stores to raise their prices.

The unintended consequences of the vote had some floating the idea of a re-do referendum in the past few months. The fallout has revealed how much misinformation voters grappled with, leading some to accuse politicians of shifting their stances to benefit their own political careers.

But a second referendum seems out of the question to many.

"The Brexiteers wanted out of Europe but they had no plan for the day after or any other day in the future," said Ian Blackford, a Scottish National Party lawmaker.

This report contains information from Reuters.

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