QUINCY — The counter at Dennis Lane’s 7-Eleven has become a front line in a heated candy war stretching across the Atlantic.
It started last year when Hershey Co. sued two importers to block Cadbury chocolate bars and some other British sweets from being shipped to the United States. Those importers recently cut off their supplies, and many Cadbury devotees are boycotting Hershey in retaliation.
The result: what Lane calls “the Boston Tea Party . . . in chocolate,” a mini-trade war.
“I’m mad as hell,” said Lane, who threatened to ban Hershey products from his store. “I’ve got two choices: Allow Hershey to bully me as a retailer, or take a stand and send a message.”
In Methuen, a grandfather forbade his granddaughters from getting Twizzlers — they’re made by Hershey — during a trip to the movies. And in Cambridge, the owner of Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, Donez Cardullo, signed online protests as she quickly stockpiled hundreds of Flakes, Crunchies, and other Cadbury treats before the long drought.
“I can’t even wrap my head around what it’s going to mean not carrying Cadbury,” Cardullo said.
Cardullo is talking about the British version: You’ll still be able to buy Cadbury-brand chocolates that Hershey makes for US customers with a different — and, Brits say, inferior — formula.
The Great Chocolate War began when Hershey sued two food importers, claiming that they infringed on the trademarks that Hershey has had since acquiring Cadbury’s US operations in the 1980s. Hershey said it noticed the British versions were starting to show up on the shelves of bigger US retailers, and not just the specialty shops, as demand for the imported chocolates grew.
Irish and British expatriates are signing online petitions that come their way via e-mail and Facebook, including one on MoveOn.org with more than 35,000 signatures, protesting Hershey’s tactics. Many upset consumers took Hershey off their shopping list for good, or at least until the Pennsylvania conglomerate backs down.
There’s no sign that’s going to happen.
Hershey spokesman Jeff Beckman said the company has worked behind the scenes for years to stop trademark infringements. Hershey took the next step of going to court with lawsuits against Posh Nosh Imports of New Jersey and California’s LBB Imports, he said, after a proliferation of the imported sweets started showing up in mainstream stores. He said Hershey bought the US Cadbury business from the Cadbury family in 1988 and uses the recipe developed by the family in the 1970s. The only significant difference, Beckman said, is that the US bars don’t contain vegetable oils because of the variation in US standards for milk chocolate.
Hershey also claimed Nestle’s Yorkie chocolate bar infringed on the York Peppermint Pattie. Nestle’s Toffee Crisp was fingered for the sin of arriving in an orange wrapper, like the one that covers Hershey’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
In recent weeks, the importers told retail customers they would stop shipping the contested candies. LBB president Nathan Dulley said he tried unsuccessfully to work out an agreement with Hershey that would allow LBB to distribute the British bars. He doesn’t expect the expats who gobble up his goods will switch to the American versions.
“You would think that there would be some reasonable economic agreement that could be reached in order for both to coexist,” Dulley said. “The loss of the business at LBB is not going to be at Hershey’s gain.”
Lane wrote an e-mail to Hershey’s John Bilbrey on Feb. 8, telling the chief executive he wouldn’t buy another Hershey product for his 7-Eleven store. Lane’s Adams Street shop caters to the big Irish diaspora in Milton and Quincy, a group that he said helps drive more than $15,000 a year in sales of imported candies for him. Lane said he’ll follow through on his threat if he doesn’t get a reasonable explanation for the blockade. As of Friday, he still hadn’t heard back from the company.
The fight, meanwhile, continues to play out in some unusual places.
Haverhill resident Mel Ball said he refused to buy Twizzlers after his two granddaughters requested them on a recent trip to Methuen to see the movie “Paddington” — they ate Mars-made M&Ms instead. The UK native said he’s upset with Hershey’s heavy-handed enforcement: “I have recommended to anybody that has Hershey products in their home to send them back to Hershey and ask for a refund.”
For Wendy MacMillan, the British candies offer a taste of nostalgia, a connection to her home country of England, which she left in 1984 when she moved to the Boston area. She said she enjoys Mars’s Maltesers so much that she named her puppy, a Maltese-Bichon Frise mix, after the candy. The Brookline resident typically buys British sweets at Kiki’s Kwik-Mart in Brighton, but doesn’t want to pay the extra expenses to order them online. (Hershey tried to block Maltesers as well, but it just agreed to drop the malt balls from its litigation with LBB.)
“I’ll never buy a Hershey product again if they continue with this ban,” MacMillan said, “and I think that’s true of a lot of people.”
Kiki’s general manager, Sophia Aiello, said she learned the bad news about three weeks ago. There are still plenty of UK-made Cadbury bars in stock but she expects they’ll be gone as soon as word gets out to her customers.
“Maybe boycotting Hershey’s is an option in the future,” Aiello said. “We have issues such as illegal narcotics and human trafficking that are far more important. Instead, we’re focusing on ‘illegal’ chocolates coming into the country.”
Cindy Quinn, co-owner of the Greenhills Irish Bakery in Dorchester, said the importer she uses is ending her supply, too.
“I’m sure that Hershey’s is cracking down with every importer,” Quinn said. But “regular old Hershey’s is not going to cut it with my customers.”
Jon Chesto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.