By Keith Shaw
Secretary of Snacks
On Feb. 9, I received an official-looking envelope from Nestle USA. It looked so official that I feared it might be "cease and desist" letter in response to my complaint.
Upon opening it, I was surprised to not only find a letter explaining the reason for my odd-looking chocolate bar, but the customer service rep added a bunch of coupons and a treasure trove of data regarding their manufacturing codes. Here's what I got:
1) The first thing was a yellow card that read "All of us at Nestle strive each and every day to bring you the very best. We have a passion for food and the role it plays in the moments that bring people together. You are a valued customer and we trust you will find the enclosed beneficial."
2) The letter:
Dear Mr. Shaw,
Thank you for contacting us about your experience with Nestle Crunch. We want to know when our customers are dissatisfied with our products, and we understand your concern.
Without seeing your actual product, your description sounds very much like chocolate 'bloom.' Depending on the product, chocolate contains cocoa butter or oils in its formulation that can separate from the other ingredients when subjected to heat. The separation causes the surface of the product to appear cloudy gray or white or have spots on it. This may happen during distribution and/or storage.
Bloom may cause the product to lose its normal, creamy texture and flavor. It is not known to be harmful. We recommend that chocolate products be stored between 60-70 degrees.
We consistently strive to produce foods that are pure and wholesome. Strict sanitary procedures are employed at our plants and careful inspections take place repeatedly throughout production. In addition, we print clear instructions for the proper handling of chocolate on all shipping cases to ensure that our high quality is maintained in storage and on display. Every precaution is taken to see that our products are always in the best possible condiion.
We appreciate the opportunity to explain this situation. We value you as a customer and would like you to accept the enclosed for your next purchase.
Consumer Response Representative
3) The coupons: Nestle enclosed a coupon for three free regular size (1.3 to 2.1 oz.) Nestle candies (up to $2.34 in value), a coupon for 75 cents off the purchase of any box of Nestle Signatures Turtles (7 oz. or larger) and a coupon for 25 cents off any Nestle chocolate candy item (Butterfinger, Nestle Crunch, Baby Ruth or 100 Grand).
4) The manufacturing code table:
"Nestle Chocolate & Confection products have 'manufacturing codes' (indicating year & day it was produced) stamped on each product. It is usually stamped in ink (red, black, blue or white) on the back or bottom of the product wrapper, box, etc. To interpret these codes, and determine the recommended shelf life from date of production, please refer to the first four characters of the manufacturing code. An example is below. Code Example: 4029FLC5A1K -- code: 4=last digit of YEAR produced (ie 2004). 029=Julian day of the year of production (see below). Remaining characters = miscellaneous production information."
Julian Calendar code:
January - 001-031
February - 032-059
March - 060-090
April - 091-120
May - 121-151
June - 152-181
July - 182-212
August - 213-243
September - 244-273
October - 274-304
November - 305-334
December - 335-365
The table also included a list of recommended shelf life for several Nestle products. For Nestle Crunch, it's 12 months.
Analysis: Clearly, Nestle when above and beyond the call of duty in responding to my complaint. They could have given me just one coupon for a free bar, but instead they gave me three free candy bars and a bunch of coupons for other Nestle products. They had a possible explanation for the discoloration on the bar, and they included the awesome manufacturing code table.
Going back to my original code (4208 etc.), I determined that the Nestle Crunch bar I purchased was made on July 27, 2004. Which means that it was sitting on the shelf of my local grocery store much, much longer than it should have been (that would explain the dust on the outside of the wrapper).
Anyway, many thanks to Nestle for providing the information to us, and in doing so in a quick and responsible fashion.