Belgian authorities in April had shut down the plant, which produces Kinder Surprise, Schoko-Bons and other products in the range after more than 100 children fell sick from salmonella linked to the chocolates. Ferrero France director Nicolas Neykov speaking to Le Parisien said the factory hopes to reopen soon.
Stressing that the events of last April constitute the largest product recall in the last 20 years for the Luxembourg-based multinational, the manager said that “Arlon is not a garbage factory. €36m have been invested in recent years. There has never been any deception or desire to hide the truth.”
An investigation is still underway to determine the exact cause of the salmonella contamination of the production lines . Two possibilities are being put forward: the introduction of contaminated raw materials or human origin, for example by a sick staff member.
We lost 40% of our turnover at Easter.
A few days before Easter, Ferrero recalled chocolate products made in Arlon following reports of salmonella contamination in children throughout Europe, including Luxembourg. “We lost 40% of our turnover at Easter, which is a key time for us. The overall financial impact will be in the tens of millions of euros,” said the executive during a Q&A session with readers of the newspaper.
More than 3,000 tonnes of products were withdrawn from the market, also arousing consumer distrust of the brand. The brand has received more than 150,000 requests for compensation and says it has satisfied 90% of them in the form of discount vouchers valid on any food purchase or via coupons valid on Kinder products.
In case the ingestion of the incriminated products led children being admitted hospital, the manager spoke of the possibility of financial compensation, without providing further details.
New safety protocol
At the beginning of April, Ferrero acknowledged that salmonella had been detected on 15 December at its Arlon factory. Neykov said that the production lines were stopped and the factory closed for cleaning. “The totality of our tests carried out in the following days were negative,” he told the mother of a little boy who was contaminated at the end of January after eating Kinder sweets received at Christmas.
Closed since the beginning of April, the Ferrero Arlon factory is waiting for the green light from the Belgian health authorities to resume its activities. On 4 May, it presented a plan to restart production on 13 June at a rate of seven days a week.
“10,000 pieces of machinery are being dismantled and cleaned one by one,” said the director, who announced that he was working on isolating the raw materials from the rest of the factory in order to check that they were not defective, as well as creating a decontamination lock for the employees of the site, which is the largest employer in Belgium’s province of Luxembourg.
Another new feature is the introduction of 50% of the checks to be carried out by an approved external laboratory, with the rest being carried out by the Italian multinational, which until now has been responsible for all the checks. The company has announced its intention to extend this process to all its production sites.
This story was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.