As many readers may know, Aromat is the brand name of an all-purpose food seasoning produced under the brand name Knorr, which is owned by the Unilever group. Since 2001, Unilever Kenya has been importing Aromat from Unilever South Africa where it is produced and distributed throughout Africa.
This year Unilever Kenya led a widely successful advertising campaign for their tasty seasoning, due largely to a well-planned and executed social media marketing strategy. Using the hashtags #ButWithAromat and #ShakeItUp on twitter, Unilever Kenya boosted the popularity of Aromat by showcasing its incredibly versatility both as a cooking ingredient as well as a condiment. However the success of the Aromat campaign became apparent when social media users begun using the hashtag #ButWithAromat metaphorically in a whole range of different circumstances, outside the kitchen. For instance:
“Mondays can be dull …#ButWithAromat, they’re the best days in the world!!!”
“USA were leading #ButWithAromat Kenya beat them 22-5 in the #London7s”
#SomeoneTellBrazil that the Opening ceremony for the World cup was wack #ButWithAromat it could be great
“A Probox is just a car #ButWithAromat it changes to a Range Rover…its unbelievable.”
And then came the #ButWithAromat memes which lead to the hashtag going viral. Here are some of them:
However, many will recall that it was at the height of the #ButWithAromat campaign that questions begun to emerge about the ingredients in Aromat. The food seasoning’s labelling indicates that its ingredients include salt, maize flour that contains genetically modified material and flavour enhancer, among others.
It was not long before media reports indicated that the Ministry of Health had issued a directive calling for the withdrawal of Unilever’s Aromat from shop shelves over genetically modified (GM) content.
The National Biosafety Authority (NBA) maintained that Unilever Kenya failed to seek approval before importing the seasoning whose labelling indicates that its ingredients include genetically modified materials. In a notice to importers on its website, the NBA states:
“We wish to notify the importers and all other stakeholders that it is illegal to handle or import any food containing a genetically modified organism (GMO) into Kenya without NBA Approval. The Government of Kenya on 8th November 2012 through a Cabinet decision instituted a ban on importation of all GM food into the country. The ban is still in force.
Contrary to the law and the ban, the Authority in its routine surveillance has come across unauthorized importation of Knorr Aromat, certain brand of cornflakes, cereals, popcorns and other corn-based products declared to contain GMOs and we have taken necessary measures as per the law. The Authority has recalled some of the products from the shelves and importers who have flouted the law have cases going on in courts.
All regulatory agencies involved in the clearance of cargo at ports and all entry points should be aware and are required to enforce the same measures at all entry points.
For more information please visit our www.biosafetykenya.go.ke or our offices in Nairobi-Gigiri, Mombasa, Namanga, JKIA and Busia/Malaba for a list of commercialized GMOs worldwide. You may also report any concerns and illegal GMOs by e-mail email@example.com or call us on 0713854132 or 020-2678667.”
As many may know, the NBA was established under the Biosafety Act, No. 2 of 2009 to exercise general supervision and control over the development, transfer, handling and use of GMOs with a view to ensuring safety of human and animal health and provision of an adequate level of protection of the environment. Section 52(a) of the Biosafety Act provides that any person who imports, places on the market a GMO without the approval of the Authority commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty million shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, or both.
According to media reports, Unilever Kenya had succeeded in getting interim court orders stopping the NBA from recalling Aromat from supermarket shelves and the subsequent arrest of its chief executive officer. However, it was later reported that Unilever Kenya had agreed to withdraw its suit against the NBA, effectively acquiescing to the NBA’s directive on withdrawal of Aromat food seasoning from circulation.
Despite the ban on Aromat, the #ButWithAromat campaign recently won Unilever Kenya the award “Corporation with the Most Creative Campaign” at the 2nd Annual OLX Social Media Awards (SoMA) 2014.