The packaging of a limited range of KitKat chocolate has prompted furor over its depictions of sacred Hindu deities
Nestle has been forced to apologize and recall a range of KitKat chocolate bars that featured images of Hindu deities on their wrappers, after a furious backlash from Indian social media users, who criticized the company for "hurting religious sentiments."
The offending wrappers were part of the Indian version of the company's global 'KitKat travel breaks' range, which has artwork by local artists printed on its packaging. However, wrappers designed to "celebrate the culture" of the state of Odisha sparked an outcry after pictures of the deities Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Mata Subhadra were used.
Over the past week, a barrage of social media posts raised concerns that the empty wrappers would end up discarded in "dustbins, drains [and] gutters" or "unintentionally" stepped on and spat on in the streets. Several commenters urged the company to "remove the pictures," with some even calling for a boycott of Nestle products.
A number of people also tagged the official Twitter handles of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his senior ministers, as well as that of Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, asking them to "take action" and "ban" Kitkat sales. One person tweeted that "our gods are not your marketing tool" while others accused Nestle of "hurting religious sentiments" and of "playing with devotees' feelings."
Following the backlash, Nestle said in a statement that it had already begun withdrawing the range from the market as a "pre-emptive action," and clarified that it understood the "sensitivity of the matter." It expressed "regret if we have inadvertently hurt anyone's sentiment."
"KitKat travel break packs are meant to celebrate beautiful local destinations and, last year, we wanted to celebrate the culture of Odisha with designs on packs representing Pattachitra, an art form uniquely identifiable by its vivid imagery," Nestle's customer service account tweeted.
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The company has previously had to apologize for the packaging in its travel break range. In 2021, the authorities in the eastern Indian state of Meghalaya objected to wrappers that incorrectly depicted another state's wildlife park and featured a red panda species not found there.