CityPress - - Business - MATTHEW HATTINGH busi­ness@city­

Thou­sands of Cadbury choco­lates have been sold to the pub­lic de­spite be­ing past their best.

The cho­co­late, some of it months beyond its best­be­fore date, was sold at a ma­jor KwaZulu-Natal South Coast whole­saler, which sup­plies spaza shops and trad­ing stores, in­clud­ing in ru­ral Eastern Cape ar­eas.

And tens of thou­sands of rands worth of short-dated cho­co­late was dis­patched to whole­saler clients hid­den among newer stock.

Th­ese claims were made in the labour court in Dur­ban this week. It was al­leged that am­bi­tious sales tar­gets led to mas­sive over­stock­ing in whole­salers.

Most re­sulted in mul­ti­mil­lion-rand re­turns across KwaZulu-Natal of pop­u­lar Cadbury brands, in­clud­ing Dairy Milk slabs and Lunch Bars.

A food health ex­pert em­pha­sised there was no risk in eat­ing cho­co­late past its best-by date.

But a le­gal ex­pert ques­tioned the ethics of sell­ing such prod­ucts with­out clearly in­form­ing con­sumers.

The mat­ter came to light when a sacked sales rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Hans van Ton­der, took his for­mer em­ployer, Diplo­mat Dis­trib­u­tors, to court, claim­ing he had been vic­timised and that his dis­missal was “au­to­mat­i­cally un­fair”.

Mon­delez SA, own­ers of Cadbury, con­tracts Diplo­mat, a lo­gis­tics com­pany, to dis­trib­ute its prod­ucts to whole­salers.

Diplo­mat fired Van Ton­der in April 2016 for gross dere­lic­tion of duty af­ter a com­pany hear­ing found an in­stance where he failed to timeously re­port that cho­co­late at a Port Shep­stone client was near­ing its best-by date.

But Van Ton­der pro­duced emails that show Diplo­mat had been told by the client that it had been re­ceiv­ing stock with “mixed ex­piry dates”, which he ar­gued was out­side his con­trol.

“It is a ma­jor con­cern as the in­ner stock on the pal­let is short-dated,” wrote a buyer for the whole­saler, who asked what would be done to erad­i­cate the prob­lem.

Van Ton­der, who had rep­re­sented Cadbury prod­ucts for 16 years, pro­duced a dossier in court, in­clud­ing na­tional stock re­turn fig­ures, emails and other doc­u­ments which al­legedly pointed to wide­spread prob­lems with over­stock­ing and short-dated stock.

Van Ton­der was fired over a R21 835 loss to Diplo­mat at the Port Shep­stone whole­saler.

This was the value of cho­co­late that had to be re­moved from the whole­saler in early 2016 af­ter it had past its best-by dates, as well as money spent dis­count­ing and pro­mot­ing the cho­co­late in a late bid to sell it.

A wit­ness for Van Ton­der told the court the R21 835 was “like chalk and cheese” com­pared with re­turns of hun­dreds of thou­sands of rands of Cadbury cho­co­late from many other whole­salers across the coun­try.

Shadrach Chin­niah, who re­signed as a Diplo­mat rep in Oc­to­ber 2016, said: “I thought it was ab­so­lutely lu­di­crous he was dis­missed for R21 000 and my store had [old stock worth] R310 000 … why didn’t they dis­miss me?”

He told the court a Diplo­mat man­ager “cleared” the R310 000 in mini­bars from a ma­jor Dur­ban whole­saler “af­ter it ex­pired”.

The court heard the mini­bars failed in the mar­ket­place na­tion­ally and the line was dis­con­tin­ued. Chin­niah al­leged there were:

● Cover-ups by man­age­ment;

● A lack of sup­port for mark­downs to move short­dated stock; and that

● Short-dated stock was hid­den among newer stock be­fore de­liv­ery, mak­ing it hard for mer­chan­dis­ers and reps to keep tabs on best-by dates.

Placed be­fore the court were pho­to­graphs that were said to show pal­let loads of choco­lates, all of which were beyond their best-by dates, “be­ing sold on spe­cial” at the same Port Shep­stone whole­saler, months af­ter Van Ton­der’s dis­missal.

The pic­tures, ap­par­ently taken in June, show marked­down PS choco­lates that had ex­pired on May 25 2016 and Lunch Bars that had ex­pired on April 25 2016. How­ever, th­ese claims were not ex­am­ined.

Early on the sec­ond day of the hear­ing, Bongani Khany­ile, at­tor­ney for Diplo­mat, ap­plied for the mat­ter to be sent to the Com­mis­sion for Con­cil­i­a­tion, Me­di­a­tion and Ar­bi­tra­tion (CCMA).

He ar­gued Van Ton­der was seek­ing re­lief for an

“au­to­mat­i­cally un­fair” dis­missal but had not made a case for this.

Judge Benita Whitcher agreed it was an “or­di­nary un­fair dis­missal case” rather than one that in­volved ar­bi­trary dis­crim­i­na­tion and ruled her court would not sit on the mat­ter.

An emo­tional Van Ton­der stormed out of the court­room.

“Three years of this,” he shouted. “They have been ly­ing. I am go­ing to go out­side and break down.”

Whitcher later gave a writ­ten or­der di­rect­ing the CCMA to expedite the mat­ter.

No or­der was made for costs.

Yi­non Ben Anat, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Diplo­mat SA said: “Diplo­mat’s pol­icy is clear in that we do not pur­chase or sell ex­pired stock [beyond its best-by date].”

He did not comment on claims of over­stock­ing and de­clined to give de­tails on Diplo­mat’s con­trac­tual re­la­tion­ship with Mon­dalez.

City Press sent Mon­dalez a list of ques­tions on over­stock­ing and its pol­icy on the sale of best-by goods. The com­pany de­clined to comment, say­ing the mat­ter was be­fore the courts.

“Mon­delez SA abides by lo­cal leg­is­la­tion and we are fo­cused on bring­ing the high­est-quality prod­ucts to our con­sumers,” it said.

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