Sunday, April 01, 2007

A story for Uncle Jerry

This is the kind of story Uncle Jerry likes.

Anna Devathasan and Jenny Suo are high school students at Pakuranga College in Auckland. In 2004 they were doing a science project. Science Fairs are a big thing here and kids do projects together and often pick their own topics. The girls decided to measure the amount of vitamin C in some of their favourite drinks including Ribena and Just Juice.

Their experiment came out that Ribena had 22mg of vitamin C and Just Juice had about 72mg this came as something of a surprise as the company advertisements seemed to suggest that Ribena had four times the vitamin C of Oranges.

They wrote to the company and got no response, so they telephoned and again got no reply. Being persistent teenagers they contacted the Advertising Standards Authority and Brandpower and again drew a blank. After all who is going to back a couple of teenagers against the mighty GlaxoSmithKline. The TV consumer programme "Fair Go" picked up the story and suggested the girls contact the Commerce Commission. They did so but put the issue on the backburner until the case made the news a few weeks ago.

The verdict was delivered last Tuesday. The girls now aged 17 were in court to hear the verdict.

The company was fined $217,500 after admitting it mislead customers about the vitamin C content of the blackcurrant drink.

The company appeared in Auckland District Court to face charges alleging 15 breaches of the Fair Trading Act.

It admitted that its cartoned Ready To Drink Ribena, which it claimed had 7mg of Vitamin C per 100ml, in fact had no detectable Vitamin C content.

The company also admitted it may have misled customers in advertisements saying the blackcurrants in Ribena syrup had four times the Vitamin C of oranges. The judge said that while it was true that blackcurrants had 4 times the vitamin C of oranges this was not true of Ribena.

They have been ordered to place half page adds in all the National Papers here.

It will almost certainly affect global sales. If you want to see a particularly poor web site they have their response on

The vitamin C issue has also brought more negative publicity, for example the statistic that Ribena has 3.5mls of sugar per 100ml wheras Coke "only" has 2.6mls. The Ribena figure equates to 9 teaspoons of sugar per 250ml average serving. We won't be buying Ribena anymore and suspect we wont be the only ones.

The reason Uncle Jerry likes this kind of story is that it shows a couple of ordinary people can make a difference. Two schoolgirls taking on the second biggest company in the world and winning is terrific. Weakness overcoming power, and the difference that a couple of committed teenagers can make. I can see the powerpoint presentation as I type! It's not quite Erin Brocovich but it is good fun!

But it is also an example of the importance of listening. Somebody read the first letter from the girls, someone else fielded the first phonecall. They were probably in "Customer Relations". Which usually seems to mean not caring much about customers at all. It amazes me how many companies put such little emphasis on frontline customer interface. Usually when you bother to write you get ignored, fobbed off or processed. You very seldom feel that you are getting through to the decision makers or that they want you to.

This site gives you a flavour of some of the other ways you can do business, GlaxoKlineSmith take note!

and whoever you are next time you get a letter from a teenager....I'd recommend reading it.