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Next entry: The Happy-Go-Lucky Funeral Parlour

Previous entry: Looks familiar?

Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Contaminated food

image

The 9Bar is a gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan snack. I have been munching these things, mainly on cycle rides, since long before the recent positive review at road.cc. The review highlights some of the positive feature of this bar for cyclists, and for people like me who try to avoid gluten and dairy:

This is a very tasty, very healthy energy food. And fairly priced too. If you can’t take too much sticky energy product - or prefer not to - then 9Bars should be part of your nutritional armoury. Eat them on your bike, or even at your desk.

Subsequently I read the Which! Report on “healthy” snacks which is not as positive and highlights that the bar contains added sugar. However besides for this observation about the 9Bar, the report was otherwise positive. And of course the fact that the 9Bar doesn’t contain gluten or dairy products (and is low in sugar) still commends it highly to me.

So in October this year it was a great surprise to me to find a “foreign” object in a bar I was chewing. The small piece of what looks like nylon line (photographed here) was in the portion I had bitten off and was busy chewing. There’s something disconcerting in feeling a strange, unnatural, and unidentified object in a mouthful of food and not knowing what it is.

I immediately logged a complaint on the 9Bar website and within a few days I received the following reply via email:

Thank you for contacting us and I am very sorry to hear of your complaint.

We need to investigate your complaint and determine how the foreign matter got into one of our bars and hence I would very much appreciate if you would send into us the offending materials and the bar wrapper.

We will carry out an investigation and get back to you with our findings.

So, I sent them the remains of the bar, its wrapping, and the foreign object, for their investigation. I took quite a bit of time and effort in doing this (unaccustomed as I am to using the postal service these days with email and the like). About a week later I received another email from 9Bar acknowledging receipt and telling me to expect a reply within about 2 weeks.

And sure enough, a couple of weeks after sending them the contaminated product, a letter from the Production & Technical Director of 9Bar arrived in the post:

Thank-you for returning the foreign body that you encountered in one of our Original 9Bars.

I am personally very sorry you have had cause to complain about one of our products.

We take all practical precautions to prevent any foreign bodies entering any of our products. The production area is a totally sealed unit within the factory and is the only area in which open food is handled. All staff, visitors and maintenance engineers wear freshly laundered overalls, hairnets and hts whilst in this area as well as in the storage and packing areas.

We have examined the foreign body you enclosed and confirm that it is a length of white string and we believe it is of the type used to close the top of the seed bags. We believe that during the ingredient preparation process this short piece of string must have become detached and dropped into the mix. It should not have occurred and we sincerely apologise. All our operators have been spoken to about this incident.

As you appreciate no matter how many precautions are taken and how well these precautions are monitored, they cannot always be 100% effective. We have a very dedicated and committed workforce and we all strive to achieve total quality at all times and I can only apologise to you that in this case our systems appear to have failed and assure you that this failure is very rare.

I hope that this will not put you off eating our products in the future and that you will accept the enclosed 9 Bars to restore your faith in the quality of our products and offer some small recompense for any distressed caused.

Yours sincerely,

Perhaps my first disappointment in opening the package was finding that it contained six (rather than as stated, nine) sample bars.  Then I realised that the writer had accidently put a space between “9” and “Bar” in his letter, so this was actually a typo.

I also felt a bit of an anti-climax because I am aware that they give these packs away for minor promotions so I felt that this was just a token compensation on their part.  On the one hand I have to admit that (as shocking/distressing as it felt at the time) the “damage” that I suffered was not that serious, and by this time I was quite capable of laughing and joking about the experience.  So, although it was disappointing to me to encounter this “contamination” (because the bars have a high value for me as a cyclist), the actual monetary value of the loss was not that great. 

Recently I bought eight of the bars for a mere £2.50 (on special) at the local supermarket. The usual price is £1.60 for four.  So the compensation was commensurate (surely?) with my loss.  On the other hand, the value of the six 9Bars that they sent me hardly matched my out of pocket expenses for the postage and packaging for returning the contaminated item to them.  It was largely a result of my mixed feelings that I decided to wait a month or so before completing this blog post/review in order to ensure that I could come to a more conclusive opinion.

My conclusion after this period of reflection is to notice that I don’t feel the same brand loyalty to 9Bar as I did prior to the incident.  I still buy and consume the product, but I feel it is more from default than anything else. If there was another vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free healthy snack available that I could take on my cycle rides, then I would happily try it out. A few months ago I would have felt disloyal doing so.  I also don’t begrudge the fact that 9Bar sent me only token compensation.  As I have indicated, the loss to me was not that great, even if my total costs were not covered by their gift. However the other side of that is that I will not notify them in future if I find a foreign object in a 9Bar. I think if it were my company I would want my customers to inform me of things like this, because then I could take the necessary action to prevent a recurrance.  9Bar will just have to accept that I am one (still loyal) customer who will not do so, because it is probably not worth the effort (the effort of my time really rather than the cost).

Posted by bigblue on 19/12/2012 at 08:24 AM
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