Along with millions of children (and adults), I was enthralled with Roald Dahl’s magical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the subsequent 1971 film, starring the ethereal Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka. Children love many things and two of the most enduring are chocolate and wonderful stories that take their imaginations to places they could never consider. In some ways, my love of chocolate was fostered by the tale of down on his luck Charlie and his grandpa’s journey through the twisted labyrinths of Willy Wonka’s fantastical chocolate factory.

Brand association is something best left to psychologists, and I’ve never fully understood what ties us to brands and products and creates choices that differ from other consumers. Why, for instance are some dedicated and driven to buy Adidas over Nike, New Balance, or Puma? It can’t all be explained by connection to the clothing itself, or the taglines, or advertising campaigns. Brand experts might say its about affiliations, childhood experiences, a feeling of connection and trust.

“I didn’t imagine there was a chocolate river in the factory, nor armies of Oompah Loompahs, dutifully creating Willy Wonka’s outlandish confectionery recipes. But the smells made me feel that something incredible occurred in our southern-most city, on a daily basis . . .”

In many ways that’s true when I think on my life time love affair with chocolate. I’m not a chocoholic, I don’t even really eat it that much but I do feel a real connection to one brand over others and I’ve lost my faith in one of the world’s oldest and largest chocolate manufacturers over the years.

When I lived in Dunedin in the mid to late 1990s, one of my favourite things were the wondrous smells that emanated from Cadbury’s factory in Cumberland Street. Smell is supposedly the most evocative of the senses and the comfort that came from the rich and pungent odours from the factory evoked the memories and wonder of earlier childhood experiences, and much of that came from the idealised genius of Roald Dahl. I didn’t imagine there was a chocolate river in the factory, nor armies of Oompah Loompahs, dutifully creating Willy Wonka’s outlandish confectionery recipes. But the smells made me feel that something incredible occurred in our southern-most city, on a daily basis – that cocoa and sugar and milk and myriad other ingredients were carefully and lovingly blended to produce chocolate, that was then shipped throughout the length and breadth of New Zealand.

“It was solid, dependable, and consumers knew what to expect from each and every bar. There were local, Kiwi manufacturers and they had little, or no chance of carving out any of Cadbury’s market share.”

Cadbury was an old and established company, long before I forked out a large chunk of my pocket money on its huge bars of chocolate, wrapped in silver foil and paper. It was a global entity that dominated markets. It was solid, dependable, and consumers knew what to expect from each and every bar. There were local, Kiwi manufacturers and they had little, or no chance of carving out any of Cadbury’s market share. Whittaker’s, for example, produced a few products – and they were definite favourites – Peanut Slabs, Sante Bars and K Bars. Although Whittaker’s also had an established history in New Zealand, their product range was small and they never seemed likely to become anything other than a niche manufacturer – no matter how much some of us dreamed of a much larger Peanut Slab.

“In this world of ubiquitous social media and the inescapable need to utilsie it to promote products, Cadbury is continually savaged by online commenters – berating it in the main for abandoning local production.”

The years rolled by and out of nowhere two things happened, very close together – the niche manufacturer from Porirua expanded its capacity and product range, while Cadbury diversified its products – mainly for the imagined taste of children – and went through a number of changes that slowly eroded consumer confidence. Diminishing the size of their bars, failing to completely remove palm oil from its products, and then finally closing down its only New Zealand manufacturing  location in Dunedin in 2018, has seen consumers leave the brand in droves.

“Whittaker’s has done a fantastic job in carving out a much larger piece of the confectionery market in New Zealand, while staying true to our expectations.”

In this world of ubiquitous social media and the inescapable need to utilsie it to promote products, Cadbury is continually savaged by online commenters – berating it in the main for abandoning local production. Kiwis are many things – bad and good, but we are loyal to local producers, and Cadbury’s decision to produce overseas has seen its market share diminish to Whittaker’s gain.

Personally my reasons for choosing Whittaker’s over Cadbury comes down to a number of factors. Local producer? Tick. Better products? Tick. Whittaker’s have created flavours that cater to adults’ and children’s palates. Their range of boutique flavours in smaller sized bars are fantastic and the tastes are dense and memorable. Chocolate is a sensory experience – where taste and smell conjures memories from our childhoods and subsequent years. Whittaker’s has done a fantastic job in carving out a much larger piece of the confectionery market in New Zealand, while staying true to our expectations. Cadbury has, in my opinion, lost its way and will be fighting for years to come to overcome its misdirection over the past few decades.