Chocolate maker Ritter Sport is heavily criticized. The company from Waldenbuch in Baden-Württemberg faces calls for a boycott because it wants to continue its activities in Russia despite the Russian attack on Ukraine. Investments and advertising have been halted, Ritter Sport said in a statement. This is not enough for part of the public and the Ukrainian government. “Square. Convenient. Blood,” tweeted Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk, based on Ritter Sport’s famous claim “Square. Convenient. Good.” In doing so, it has created an image that has the potential to stick in people’s minds for the long term, which would be fatal for a luxury product aimed at appealing to families and children.
Alfred Ritter GmbH & Co. KG employs around 1,750 people. According to the company, the annual turnover of the family business was around 500 million euros. The Russian market would represent between 40 and 50 million euros, Ritter Sport CEO Andreas Ronken said in an interview with FAZ a few weeks ago. About ten percent.
Calls for a boycott often cause a stir. Then they turn off. The outrage continues. The commercial impact remains low. But things could turn out differently for Ritter Sport.
The company is almost entirely dependent on a brand that almost everyone knows: “Ritter Sport”. This distinguishes the Swabian manufacturer from companies such as Nestlé, Mondelez, Ferrero or Mars. They have the advantage of being present in the market with a variety of confectionery products. Consumers should rarely find out who is behind Milka, Smarties or Milky Way. At Ritter Sport, negative reports and storm surges of shirts, as is currently the case, immediately affect the brand.
According to a brand
For years, Ritter Sport has emphasized in its communication that it is committed to sustainability in cocoa production and good working conditions in the producing countries. You act responsibly and understand. But now even Nestlé – for many the epitome of a profit-hungry food company – has announced that it no longer wants to sell chocolate products like Kitkat in Russia. You want to limit yourself to the delivery of basic food products. Does Ritter Sport now want to declare chocolate vital?
In terms of communication, the company has acted awkwardly in recent days. Instead of building a coherent argument and explaining one’s own position, one got entangled in individual statements to media such as “Wirtschaftswoche” and “Bild”. What has been communicated to the outside so far seemed to be lacking in empathy and profit driven. The arguments were purely economic, which in a situation where people are dying every day in Ukraine and terrible images are shocking the world, seems cold at best, especially if you otherwise put its alleged durability in the window.
To make matters worse, the company instrumentalized cocoa farmers. The plants are mainly grown in Latin America and West Africa. “In order to secure the jobs and also the livelihoods of many cocoa farming families, we continue to supply chocolate to the Russian population,” a statement said on March 31. It seemed like a diversionary tactic and an attempt to offset something positive about the Russian company – the commitment to growing regions.
Announcement of intention to donate “all proceeds from ongoing activities in Russia to humanitarian aid organizations” received positive reports, but not thought through . Why should one blindly trust a GmbH & Co. KG that has published sales figures in the past but never reported profits? Ukrainians also need help now, not as the company dismantled its balance sheet in about a year.
Various scenarios are possible for Ritter Sport. It is possible that consumers in important target markets such as Germany and France will continue to buy the chocolate they love and the subject will quickly disappear from the public eye. Probably not.
Ukrainian politicians seem to want to make an example of the chocolatier. Besides Ambassador Melnyk, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also denounced the activities of Ritter Sport. “Stop funding Ritter Sport war crimes,” he wrote on Twitter. The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense became even more categorical: “153 Ukrainian children killed will never be able to taste chocolate again. We call on Ritter Sport to leave Russia and stop sponsoring ammunition, grenades and rockets for the murderers of our children.” Fake photos of a “war edition” of the chocolate brand are already circulating. The ministry Defense has uploaded a montage of a “Hitler Sport” plate, “Blood of Children” edition.It could hardly be worse for a chocolate brand.
The real lever for a boycott will probably be the supermarket chains. It cannot be ruled out that there is pressure on Rewe, Edeka and Co. to remove Ritter Sport products from the range as soon as possible. Otherwise, boycott calls could soon be directed against supermarkets as well.
“Chocolate is an impulse product, not a conscious purchase. No one has Ritter Sport marzipan on their shopping list. This has to happen with the consumer: the knight, who does something better, takes care of it, has his own plantation,” said entrepreneur Andreas Ronken of the “FAZ”. negative association, then the opposite impulse should occur. Products from a war-related brand of chocolate are something that very few people want to have in their shopping cart. The purple alternative is usually a few steps away. has a happy cow for the conscience.
It is possible that Ritter Sport’s involvement in Russia will soon be over. The EU has announced new sanctions. Even if chocolate continues to be exempt from sanctions, business in Russia for Ritter Sport may be severely affected for a long time. The brand would therefore have ruined its reputation for little or nothing.