GLOBAL September 2019
Manufacturers using Food Products to send political messages
Food and beverage manufacturers all over the world are getting more vocal to voice out their support or protest against a political decision or person in various governments. These ‘voices’ however can be seen visually through their food products or in their packaging.
In the US, Ben & Jerry's co-founder Ben Cohen has recently created a limited edition flavor called ‘Bernie's Back’ for his favored presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders. It's a hot cinnamon ice cream with a chocolate disc on top and a butter toffee backbone going down the middle. Cohen added, “It's because Bernie's got spine.” However, this ice cream will not be sold at retail stores as 40 pints will be given away through a contest hosted by Sanders’ campaign website. The pints will be hand-numbered and signed by Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, another of Ben & Jerry’s co-founder.
In addition, a description of the ice cream on Sanders' website mentioned the "chocolate disc as representing all the wealth that has risen to the top 1%. And the hot cinnamon is our political revolution holding politicians' feet to the fire to make America work for working people of all races and genders.”
Ben & Jerry has often used its ice cream to promote social justice agenda. Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, the popular Wah Yee Tang bakery is making mooncakes with slogans (messages) against the local government appointed by Beijing as its way to support the pro-democracy protest in the territory.
Messages in the mooncakes include phrases such as ‘if there is no withdrawal (from the head of the Hong Kong government), there will be no dispersion (of the demonstrators)’ and ‘Hong Kong people’.Other versions say ‘be water’, referring to the philosophy of the protesters, inspired by the late martial arts star Bruce Lee, who defended a fluid approach in his demonstrations. Known to be dense and caloric, the cakes are usually filled with lotus seeds or red bean paste and a salt egg yolk symbolising the moon.
In addition, bubble tea joints like Taiwan-based Yifang Fruit Tea has also shown its support by closing one of its Hong Kong stores for a day and then placed a sign that said ‘Stand Together with Hong Kongers’. This, however has angered mainland Chinese consumers as the photos were circulated on social media which resulted in a call for the boycott of all Taiwanese bubble tea brands in China.
The run-in with Chinese social media users is another example of how food and beverage companies can get caught in political issues. To avoid any potential commercial losses, these companies have later apologised through their social media accounts, affirming their support for ‘One Country, Two Systems’ or ‘One China’.
These companies have created a major indirect publicity for their company and products. As to whether it will offer positive returns in terms of higher sales for their products is yet to be seen. But one thing for sure, it has increased consumer level of curiosity on these companies and their products.



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