Facebook is incredibly powerful in Morocco, with no other online market places – its home to most buying and selling public activity. It’s also very easy to rally millennials around a cause, in the last few months price hikes by; Sidi Ali (bottled water), Afriquia (gasoline) and now Centrale Laitière (dairy products), have been dissed with consumers encouraged to vote with their feet and their wallets, supported by Moroccan celebrities.
Young protesters first launched the boycott campaign against Danone’s Centrale milk products on April 20 under the slogans “Say No to High Prices,” and “Let it Spoil.” and the boycott is still ongoing. It has come to embody unified Moroccan citizenship speaking out against rising commodity prices.
Centrale Danone Purchasing Director Adil Benkirane has apologized to consumers for characterizing participants in the online boycott as betraying the country and its products. Adil Benkirane shared a video on Facebook, expressing his regret when Danone claimed his view was not a company one: “I have read the reactions about my statement, and I know I made a mistake,” he said. Benkirane expressed his remorse for hurting the Moroccan citizens: “It was not my intention. What I meant was that the farmers needed all of us and our support,”.
It shows how sensitive price is here in a poor country where every dirham counts, and the power of the public vote in taking down what is perceived as bad corporate behaviour. The after effects for Danone will be severe here – although the brand has lowered prices again, switching will already have happened, plus consumers are rumour-mongering about all of Danone’s dairy products – ‘don’t eat that yogurt’ I heard someone say the other day, ‘they use pig in the processing’, no quicker way to put a muslim off a product than fake news which makes the product something that can’t be consumed.
So how should brands handle this kind of risk – be open and transparent, engage the consumer in the reasons why the change has come about, or give them a choice for instance raise the price or change the pack/size and packaging to keep the price the same. Gone are the days of top down manufacturing decisions, structures are flat now and that includes talking with the people, your shareholders who buy your product and pay your wages.