Cadbury’s chocolate lovers in the US basked in the glow of a faint glimmer of hope last week, when news broke that an enterprising young couple in the UK had started a small online business to meet the demands of those upset by the ban on importing Cadbury’s chocolate into the US.
Robert Jeffreys and his fiancee Rebecca Gerken, from the English town of Kings Lynn, founded an online chocolate subscription service called British Chocolate Club. The service promised to fill a box with treats such as Cadbury's Flakes, Dairy Milk bars and Crunchies and Nestles' Toffee Crisps and Yorkie Bars and ship it to subscribers around the world. An 8-bar box cost $15 a month, including shipping; a 15-bar box cost $25.
The couple got the idea after a lawsuit by Hershey’s stopped importers from bringing the chocolates into the US. They believed that the lawsuit only applied to importers supplying business, not individual customers. The British Chocolate Club was intended to ship to “private households only.”
"We were amazed that in our globalized world, and in a freedom-loving nation like the United States of America, a company could just get away with preventing people from physically buying the sweets that they want," Jeffreys told the news site DNAinfo in an email.
However, as DNAinfo later reported, Hershey’s did not agree with their interpretation of the lawsuit.
A Hershey spokesman, Jeff Beckman called "what this couple is doing — selling to consumers in the United States — is still a violation" of Hershey's U.S. trademark rights.
Beckman said that he couldn’t “speculate on future potential legal actions" against the couple.
"We prioritize our efforts when it comes to protecting our brands against infringement," Beckman said. "At the same time, we do not ignore those that we view as having a negative impact on our brands."
Afraid that Hershey’s was going to bring a legal case against them, Jeffreys and Gerken quickly closed up shop.
The homepage for the British Chocolate Club now reads:
“We started this business quickly in order to try and meet a demand and sieze upon an oppurtunity [sic]. We researched the idea and concluded it was feasible and legal. Then furthermore we watched a news report on the BBC that stated that a similar company was doing what we wanted to do completly [sic] legally. So that gave us enough confidence to begin.
“Unfortunately that confidence was misplaced. We can not provide the service we wanted to and so we must close our very short lived business.
“We have fully refunded everyone who joined our club. If you were one of the very first people to sign up we may have already sent out your chocolate. If that is the case we have still refunded you and please accept the chocolate as a gift.”
The couple, who had received almost 200 orders their first day in business, apologized for any inconvenience.
But, as DNAinfo noted, there are still a number of British vendors on Amazon offering to ship authentic Cadbury’s chocolate to US buyers. The Hershey Company has not yet issued any statement regarding other online sellers.