Buyers are to blame for obesity, not us, says Cadbury's chief

John Sunderland, the chairman of Cadbury Schweppes, yesterday tried to diffuse the growing backlash against the "vexed" obesity issue by shifting the blame to consumers. He told shareholders at the annual meeting: "We cannot escape the role of personal accountability we each have. Calories in have to match calories out."

John Sunderland, the chairman of Cadbury Schweppes, yesterday tried to diffuse the growing backlash against the "vexed" obesity issue by shifting the blame to consumers. He told shareholders at the annual meeting: "We cannot escape the role of personal accountability we each have. Calories in have to match calories out."

Cadbury Schweppes, the UK's biggest sweet manufacturer, has become increasingly sensitive to charges that its products are to blame for the country's bulging obesity problem. It is still bruised from the bad publicity generated by its campaign to sell more chocolate by offering to exchange tokens on chocolate wrappers for free sports equipment for schools.

Mr Sunderland said the growth in the number of overweight people was "mirrored by a decline in physical activity and the growth in out-of-home food consumption". He said the company was doing its bit by changing the labelling on its products, its portion sizes and researching ways to reduce the "energy dense" ingredients in its chocolate bars and sweets.

The group, which bought the chewing-gum and cough-sweet maker Adams last year to increase its share of the so-called "healthy" sweets market, said its new financial year had started well, with interim sales expected to hit its 3 to 5 per cent growth target.

Its core US fizzy drinks arm enjoyed a "particularly" encouraging start, with its diet brands selling well. It has turned around sales of Dr Pepper by spending more on marketing although sales of its non-carbonate brands such as Snapple were only "satisfactory".

Its confectionery business in the Americas was also singled out for its "encouraging" start to the year, while the integration of Adams remains on track. It predicted that operating margins in the first half would be higher year-on-year.

Under its new chief executive, Todd Stitzer, the company is axing one in 10 of its 55,000-strong workforce and closing one in five of its 133 factories around the world. The company's decision to allow share options to be "retested" in its new pay regime, giving executives a second chance to be given the chance to acquire shares, was backed by its shareholders.

Questions from the 300-plus private investors who packed the meeting focused instead on whether the company would ever invent a biodegradable chewing gum and why it did not sell more continental-style dark chocolate.

"We're a long way off creating the biodegradable gum, but we're confident that... we can achieve it," Mr Sunderland said.

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