Mini Babybel manufacturer, Groupe BEL, has narrowly avoided a full blown boycott of its products in France after a summer-themed promotion was labelled offensive by mental disability groups in the country.
Unapei, which represents and defends the interests of people with intellectual disabilities and their families in France, threatened action against BEL after being made aware of the company’s latest summer promotion.
Promotional nets of Mini Babybel included free inkpads for children featured the message ‘des vacances de malade mental’, which basically translates as ‘holidaying like a mentally ill person’.
According to BEL, the expression is widely used amongst young people in the France, and a play on the word ‘emmental’ - one of several cheeses used to make Mini Babybel.
Shocked by the message, Unapei contacted BEL and urged them to withdraw the products in question from shelves – a request that BEL initially ignored.
“We wrote a letter to BEL urging them that to remove the promotional products from shelves. If they removed them there would be no problem. But at the time they did not want to apologise or remove the product from stores,” Unapei president Christel Prado told DairyReporter.com.
Faced with a lack of consideration from the company, Unapei called for a boycott of BEL brands, including Leerdammer, Kiri, The Laughing Cow, Mini Babybel and Boursin.
“Following that, we called for a boycott of all BEL-produced products.”
“The big boss of BEL then called me. He was very upset. He apologised and suggested we meet them in September to work out a positive message about intellectual disability to fight discrimination,” said Prado.
The company has since issued a public apology and ceased production of the promotional toy. An investigation has also been launched, with the aim of establishing what went wrong during the validation process.
“Now we are just calling for the boycott of products that still carry the message,” added Prado. “We do not want children to buy these products. We cannot educate our children with these messages.”
Prado also revealed that Unapei has received support from a number of organisations as well as from the parents and families of people with mental disabilities.
“Parents of many intellectually disabled people in France have called our actions a good thing. They can’t fight these big companies alone. It is good that we are here to help.”
Emerging market growth
The BEL Group yesterday reported sales revenue of €647.6m for the first quarter of the year – a 9.1% increase on the prior-year period.
Western Europe continued to drive the firm’s sales revenue, but emerging markets, such as Africa and the Middle East, recorded impressive growth.
“These regional performances confirm the solidity and robust appeal of the Group’s brands, the relevance of the product innovations offered to our consumers and the quality of the sales strategies deployed locally,” said a statement.