Select Committee on European Communities Nineteenth Report




  30.  Milk chocolate and the pejorative labelling of the high milk content version favoured in the United Kingdom and Ireland appeared to be a secondary concern of the industry for this round of reform. The BCCCA's argument was that they did not want to lose the advantages conferred by the permission to use non-cocoa fats by raising their concerns on the perceived current discrimination against United Kingdom-style milk chocolate (QQ 43-8).

Free and fair Community circulation

  31.  CAOBISCO considered that both versions of milk chocolate were quality products which should be allowed free circulation. They were well aware of the sensitivity of the issue of sales names but could do no more than bring to our attention the divisions between their members (p 15). The BCCCA noted that CAOBISCO had tried to resolve the issues but had so far been unsuccessful in finding a name which all considered to be both non-pejorative and non-promotional (Q 40). The Italian industry agreed with free circulation but claimed that the sales name "household" was not perceived as negative or pejorative in Italy (pp 13-14). The BCCCA disagreed, and considered the market to be considerably affected by the current derogatory sales name (Q 16). Test Achats considered that the consumer would be confused by two sorts of milk chocolate and argued that there was no option other than the term "household" for the United Kingdom version (p 23). The Food and Drink Federation disagreed, saying that "household" was "a clear attempt to denigrate the product" and even that "milk chocolate with a high milk content" was "an unnecessary tautology" (p 19).

  32.  The BCCCA argued that, were a solution to the problem to be sought in this round, then the naming, enshrined in the 1973 Directive, which is perceived as pejorative should be ended by literal translations of "milk chocolate with a high milk content", the phrase used in the English translation. In a future reform, the solution may be to have a single, inclusive definition which respected the two traditions of milk chocolate. This could be achieved by declaring the relative percentages of milk and cocoa content, or by setting a combined milk and cocoa percentage of 40 per cent with a minimum of 14 per cent milk and 20 per cent cocoa[4] (QQ 15, 23).

  33.  The Food and Drink Federation argued strongly that all products should be able to compete fairly and that consumer demand should determine production (p 19). Thorntons identified a market for a less sweet milk-chocolate and so used the Continental recipe (p 23). In contrast, George Payne & Co. made the milkier version and had no intention of changing their product as they had a well established market (p 20). The Dairy Industry Federation did not believe that there was much scope for increased sales of United Kingdom style milk chocolate on the Continent and thus did not perceive the pejorative labelling to be a major handicap (p 18). The BCCCA disagreed and argued that the derogatory sales name considerably affected the market in France (Q 16).


  34.  The original Directive was drafted when there were only the original six Member States of the Community, and reflects their particular tradition of milk chocolate making and their perception of quality as being related to a high percentage of cocoa solids. This was confirmed by Test Achats, who suggested that the Belgian variant of milk chocolate was of a higher quality as it contained more cocoa (p 23). The Cocoa Campaign, however, noted that milk solids were more expensive than cocoa solids (p 17), and the BCCCA confirmed this (Q 55). In the BCCCA's opinion, quality was a consumer judgment and not an absolute (p 2).


  35.  We were surprised that the United Kingdom's industry representative, the BCCCA, seemed willing, for the time being at least, to accept the status quo so far as milk chocolate was concerned, and the trading disadvantage which United Kingdom milk-chocolate has had to endure since 1973, which will be maintained under the proposed Directive. The explanation we received was that they did not wish to put at risk the achievement of a single market throughout the European Community for chocolate using non-cocoa fats, for the sake of the commercially unquantifiable, and perhaps not very great, advantages of obtaining satisfaction on the issue of single, or neutral, labelling of milk chocolate (QQ 43-8). It is true, of course, that, unlike chocolate with a non-cocoa fat content, milk chocolate with a high milk content is only produced by the United Kingdom and Ireland, and therefore it is perhaps understandable to be defeatist about the prospects of securing redress in the Council.

  36.  In truth we see no good reason why there need to be two separate products, "milk chocolate" and "milk chocolate with a high milk content" (which in the other languages in which the Directive was published was translated as "household milk chocolate"), and why both products cannot be allowed to trade under the description of "milk chocolate". Those who argue for two separate denominations are attempting to restrict competition within the Community. It would be perfectly feasible, and in our view desirable, to have a single denomination for milk chocolate covering both types produced in the Community today. It is always available to the manufacturer to advertise the milk content of his product if he wishes to make that a selling point. It is most important that it should be the choices of the well-informed consumer which determine sales and not the policy of the European Community.

  37.  If there is to continue to be a separate description for United Kingdom-style milk chocolate, then at least it should be neutral in all languages. We see no reason why misleading translations with a discriminatory effect should be used in the translations of the Directive into other languages, with such chocolate being sold among groceries, and not as confectionery. Of course arguments about what is, and what is not, discriminatory can be interminable, particularly when they are about descriptions in another language, and it is impossible to distinguish the negative impact on the sales of United Kingdom-style milk chocolate of unfair marketing restrictions, from that of traditional consumer preference. Nevertheless, the industry can find no other explanation than the use of an inferior sales name for the negligible sales of the United Kingdom style of milk chocolate in some other Member States. We see no reason to doubt this judgment. Moreover, we would make the point that hitherto many United Kingdom milk chocolate products have been kept out of the markets of eight Member States by the ban on the import into those countries of chocolate with a non-cocoa fat content. If and when the new Directive lifts that ban, United Kingdom milk chocolate will have much greater access to Community markets. This may highlight still further the issue of derogatory labelling.

  38.  We would not like to go further than the British industry representatives themselves wish to go and to press for a solution to be found to the problem of milk-chocolate labelling in the Directive under consideration. We would like to note, however, that it will remain an unresolved issue which the Directive itself may make more rather than less necessary to address in the future.

  39.  What would be entirely unacceptable would be a Directive which incorporated the European Parliament's amendment to remove the present derogation for the United Kingdom and Ireland, and so require milk chocolate to be sold in this country as "milk chocolate with a high milk content", and we urge the Government to maintain their robust stand on this matter[5].


  40.  The Committee considers that the proposed reform of the EC chocolate Directive raises important questions to which the attention of the House should be drawn, and makes this report to the House for debate.

4   This would accommodate both the Continental version, containing 25 per cent cocoa and 14 per cent milk, and the United Kingdom and Ireland version, containing 20 per cent cocoa and 20 per cent milk. Back

5   Notably as expressed in the written answer to Lord Willoughby de Broke, HL Deb 2 February 1998 WA 85-6. Back

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