The Sunday Mail
Enacy Mapakame and Africa Moyo
MAZOE can arguably be described as the favourite soft drink for most Zimbabweans.
The drink is equally popular in neighbouring South Africa, where it has out-competed other brands in that country.
Schweppes Zimbabwe, producers of the beverage, was humbled by a massive consumer backlash after altering the drink’s ingredients without prior consultation.
The reaction by citizens, and the subsequent admission by Schweppes that it had blundered, is a timely reminder to all manufacturers that “the customer is a King”.
Schweppes Zimbabwe promised to bring back the original taste to compete with the new one.
Unprepared to pay good money for a poor beverage, consumers showed Schweppes and other manufacturers that they cannot be taken for granted.
Social media platforms, mainly Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, have disrupted the way companies previously operated.
The so-called “liberative” social platforms, which promote participation by groups of people marginalised by the mainstream media, have revived the concept of consumer power.
While Schweppes’ intentions might have been noble – to reduce excess sugar that is seen as harmful to consumers – the way the company handled the process was not up to scratch.
Schweppes clearly took its customers for granted by failing to do an awareness campaign on its intentions, get feedback and launch the new product.
The market could have warmed up to the idea had it not been imposed on them, a move that stripped them of their right to choose from an informed position.
Consumer Council of Zimbabwe (CCZ) executive director, Ms Rosemary Siyachitema said infringing consumer rights is detrimental to business.
“It is necessary for companies to do consultations, especially for products like Mazoe that have a long standing tradition in Zimbabwe so that consumers choose from an informed position.
“There may be others who liked the new product, but those who did not like it aired their views.
Manufacturers should do awareness and consultations to make the process transparent, and we did not see this happening with Mazoe.
“World over, companies are removing excess sugars and fats but consumers should get the information first so they can decide what they want,” said Ms Siyachitema.
She added that there is need for consumer protection, which could be achieved through the Consumer Protection Bill.
Once passed into law, the Consumer Protection Bill is expected to help show the specific legal protection and rights of consumers.
The right to choose for consumers, as well as provision of basic information on packaging of products, prohibition of unfair competition, are necessary in the market to enhance consumer protection.
Economist Mr Persistence Gwanyanya said one of the challenges in the country is mistrust and lack of confidence in the consumer-manufacturer relation.
Mr Gwanyanya said some manufacturers are exploiting consumers, especially where they enjoy monopoly or market dominance.
“Schweppes did wrong. They did not explain to consumers the ingredient changes before putting the product on the shelves, which is bad business practice.
“But this should serve as a lesson to others that consumers still hold some measure of power and have the right to choose what they want,” he said.
Colcom Foods, which manufactures the popular pork pie, is also under siege from consumers who are expressing displeasure at the shrinking size of the meat in the pie.
A number of consumers are calling for a boycott of the product, while others have turned to President Mnangagwa’s Twitter handle to plead with him to whip the company into line.
A consumer, Tanaka Manika, wrote on Colcom’s Facebook page: “Guys, can you be serious and respect us . . . This is deception.”
Another consumer, Sharon Bwanya wrote, “In light of the growing voices of discontent on social media about the current state of #ThisPie, as a good youthie (sic), I have a proposed solution.
“May I suggest that you introduce a premium pie range of
curry/pork/beef pies which would cost more but have all the goodness (pastry and meat). . .”
Sadly, Colcom has remained mum on the issue, even to messages on the company’s Facebook page.