Cadbury has responded to a legal warning sent by an Indian social media influencer. This has ignited a debate about whether Bournvita, its health drink of decades, is a trap for sugar.
Revant Himatsingka (aka Food Pharmer) questioned Bournvita's high sugar content earlier this month. The video posted by the certified health coach earlier this month has been viewed 12 million times. He warned against the diabetes risk in consuming a product that, according to him, had little nutrition.
The post was removed on Apr. Himatsingka, however, removed the post on April 14 after Cadbury, a subsidiary of US multinational Mondelez Inc., issued a legal warning to him.
"I apologize to Cadbury for the video. I didn't intend or plan to infringe on any trademarks or defame a company, nor do I have any interest or resources to take part in any court proceedings and I ask MNCs not to pursue this legally," Himatsingka said on Instagram.
Cadbury's powdered drinks Bournvita and Tang accounted for 14 percent of the company’s revenue in India by 2021.
Cadbury was established in 1824 and introduced to India in 1948.
The company responded quickly to Himatsingka. The company said that each serving has 7.5 grams added sugar. This is less than the 25 grams recommended daily for children. Bournvita had claimed that it had immunity-boosting qualities even before the pandemic started, contrary to what Food Pharmer said.
Experts call Cadbury's claims misleading.
According to one of the four research papers shared on Twitter by Dr Abby Phillips, hepatologist, Bournvita's colour changes due to its "sugary", inherently changing content.
"Given the high sugar content (71%), per 20g, there are 14.2g of sugar. This is approximately. This is 57% of the recommended daily upper limit. It will only go up if you add more sugar or milk. Phillips added that the 'claim' of using the product in accordance with instructions is safe, is also misleading.
Another study found that Bournvita has a higher caffeine concentration than other products based on cocoa.
In recent years, Indian companies have been scrutinized for their food products' nutritional and health value.
The Bournvita controversy is a wake-up for the food industry. "In today's competitive marketplace, consumers expect that brands communicate with them honestly and openly," Upasna dash, the founder and CEO of Jajabor Brand Consultancy told Quartz.
A study by the government in 2016 found that soft drinks produced by PepsiCo or Coca-Cola contained five different toxins. These included lead, chromium and cadmium. According to the World Health Organization, lead and cadmium are two of the ten chemicals that pose the greatest public health risk.
Nestle's Maggi instant noodle was found to be unsafe for human consumption in 2015. Nestle's internal document from six years ago stated that 60% (excluding baby formula, pet food, and coffee) of its food and drink portfolio does not meet recognized standards for healthy food.