The new words on serious diners lips are ‘Gåte’ and ‘Quoin Rock’, both not having been heard of by most, but already associated with superlative dining, on a wine estate tucked away outside Stellenbosch where no expense had been spared to create eating and drinking experiences to take one’s breath away! This is what we experienced when invited to eat at Chef Rikku O’Donnchü’s Gåte restaurant on Friday evening. I was still pinching myself over the weekend as to whether this was real, or just a dream. I invited my friend Stuart Bailey to share this experience with me. Continue reading →
The Sweet Service Award goes to M-Net and its investigative program Carte Blanche, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last week, with Derek Watts being in the hot seat from the outset in 1988. Sunday’s program paid tribute to some of the top stories which the program has researched, including the death of Brett Kebble, the danger of Social Media, Rael Levitt and Auction Alliance, the Thuli elephants, the alleged fraud by Mama Jackie, and many more. The programme will Continue reading →
Last year, on April Fools’ Day, the Consumer Protection Act became effective, and was heralded as being much-needed legislation to protect consumers against poor service, misleading advertising, and the sale of shoddy products. With the legislation came the establishment of the National Consumer Commission, which was to receive complaints from the public against businesses contravening the Act, and to act against them. Now it appears that the National Consumer Commission is a near failure at executing its mandate.
According to The Times, the National Consumer Commission’s head Mamodupi Mohlala-Malaudzi has become a keen issuer of compliance notices against businesses, many of which have been overturned by the Consumer Tribunal, at a great cost to the businesses affected even if they were successful in getting their cases withdrawn. A report prepared by the Consumer Tribunal about the operation of the National Consumer Commission has found that its major weaknesses are that compliance notices have been issued without following the correct procedure or being ‘defective’, ‘failure of the commission to understand the act’, issuing notices which the Consumer Protection Act does not allow, badly written documents with errors, ‘contemptuous and unprofessional conduct by the commission when dealing with opposing lawyers and the tribunal‘, and ‘undermining the work of the tribunal’, very serious allegations indeed! In addition, the National Consumer Commission was found to base its decisions on ‘subjective views’.
It was the findings of this (confidential) Consumer Tribunal report that the National Consumer Commission used to (unsuccessfully) try to have the Consumer Tribunal’s rejection of the Commission’s case against Auction Alliance set aside in the Pretoria High Court.
A compliance notice can cost a business found guilty in terms of the Consumer Protection Act R1 million or 10% in annual turnover if the ruling of the National Consumer Commission is not adhered to. To date 33 cases have been referred to the Consumer Tribunal, including companies such as Eskom, City of Johannesburg, BMW, Audi SA, Peugeot Citroen SA, Kia, Volkswagen, Telkom, Vodacom, MTN, Top-TV, Cell C, and Multichoice. Of these, the correct procedure in issuing a compliance notice was not followed in six cases, and the Commission did not file responding affidavits to thirteen of the notices! The newspaper article quotes the example of the City of Johannesburg, against which 45 compliance notices have been set aside! Only big corporates can afford to challenge a compliance order, due to the cost involved, meaning that smaller businesses are forced to abide by such orders, even if the complaint is unjustified.
It would appear that Mohlala-Malaudzi’s days are numbered at the National Consumer Commission, as her contract with the Commission has not been renewed, expiring at the end of September, a matter which she took to the Labour Court and lost.
In dealing with businesses, it is surprising how few companies know about the Consumer Protection Act, and abide by it. One of the clauses of the Act prescribes that all repair work must be preceded by written and signed off quotes, but this rarely happens, as we have experienced for car services and repairs at Mercedes Benz in Century City, where they are quick to add R10000 – R20000 of extra nice-to-have part replacements. We also saw a notice at All Active Electric in Sea Point, which states that repair quotes not accepted will be charged at R50, contravening the Act. Two lamps were given to this company to be fixed, one requiring a wire to be fitted back into the switch, and another needing the brass fitting holding the bulb to be repaired. We were shocked when the bill came to R150, 50% of the purchase cost of the lamps, with additional repairs done which were not requested. When queried, the staff member quickly dropped the price to R95. No quote was received, and even the lower price felt like a rip off, despite the quick 24 hour service. Action TV came to fix a TV channel reception problem at our guest house last week, and could not find a solution on its first visit, despite having done past repairs. A ‘booster‘ was deemed to be necessary, and despite asking, we were not given a quote, being promised one the following day! The bill has come to R4650, including the booster costing R1780, cabling to the value of R950, and a number of splitters. The TV system was installed at the guest house 14 years ago, and has worked perfectly without all these extra items.
It is clear that the National Consumer Commission needs to get its house in order, and that it needs a new broom when its head leaves its employ. It clearly also needs an advertising campaign to inform business owners of their obligations in terms of repair quotations.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage
I have watched with amusement how new Robertson’s Social Media Manager Sonia Cabano has been going about her new job in the past ten days, one she has never done before, given that brand diplomacy would be expected of her at all times. Twice last week she demonstrated that she is too political to do this job without damaging the Robertson’s brand reputation.
The word ‘Masterclass’ caught my eye in the Robertson’s TV commercial during the MasterChef SA broadcast last week, and since then I have been trying to understand what it means in its use as a pay-off line for this MasterChef SA sponsor. I requested an explanation via e-mail of the claim on Twitter, and in reply was referred to the very slow to open website developed by digital agency Liquorice, and was told that Robertson’s does not send e-mails to its customers. On Friday late afternoon I called the Unilever Consumer Centre helpline number (0860331441) on the Robertson’s website, and had to listen to an abrupt unfriendly male voice giving the operating hours of the helpline, being Monday – Friday from 8h00 – 16h00! That was amusing in itself, in that most cooking is done at night, and if Robertson’s is spending millions on its MasterChef SA sponsorship and advertising, why would it not have a helpline with customer-friendly hours! I wanted to share this on Twitter, and noticed with surprise that we had been blocked on Twitter by Robertson’s, which means that we no longer receive their Tweets. In Social Media terms this is extreme censure. One could sense how Sonia Cabano had to contain her sharpness she is known for on her personal Twitter account (@SoniaCabano2), one on which she regularly blocks followers for ‘trolling’ her, she writes, yet she runs anonymous Twitter accounts with Skye Grove, disparaging other Tweeters, including ourselves. Sonia Cabano is unknown as a ‘chef’, having never cooked in a South African restaurant kitchen, but has written three cookbooks, and presented a TV cooking programme ‘Pampoen tot Perlemoen’ many years ago. In an interview in Rapport’s ‘My Tyd’ ten days ago, she trod on bloggers’ toes by disparaging them: ‘…enigiemand wat al ooit ‘n houtlepel vasgehou het, deesdae ‘n blogger of koskenner is’. One would have thought that, as the new Social Media Manager for Robertson’s, she would recognise bloggers as one of her key target markets, in creating exposure for and encouraging the use of her client’s brand and products!
On the Robertson’s Twitter account Sonia Cabano’s output has been admirable, with just over 300 Tweets and 280 followers in just ten days, but the frequency of Tweeting has slowed down, and they do not appear to Tweet on Sundays! The Twitter volume was extremely low yesterday. Interesting was her ‘interview’ with top 50 ‘bootcamp’ finalist Jade de Waal via Twitter last week, the only contestant that she has interviewed on behalf of Robertson’s to date, showing favouritism towards her (commendably declared) friend and relative (De Waal was her maiden name). She may also be ‘communicating’ that this contestant has won MasterChef SA, something the rest of us will only know in 17 weeks!
Given that I was not getting any joy from the Robertson’s Twitter account, I looked for ‘Masterclass’ on the Robertson’s website, one which is not the easiest to navigate, as it does not show the pages on the site. It was when I clicked on to ‘Competitons’ (sic), that I found a sub-page entitled ‘Masterclass’, being a video of Chef and Robertson’s endorser Reuben Riffel making a ‘Cheesy garlic bread with home-made herbed butter’! I had double-checked the term ‘Masterclass’ earlier in the week, when I had written about the Robertson’s ‘Masterclass’ pay-off line, and had found it to be a term used in the field of music in the main, denoting a revered person giving a class. A chef told me that it could relate to cooking too, and used Chef Liam Tomlin giving a cooking class at Liam Tomlin Foods as an example. The term has two parts – it implies that the person giving the class is recognised as an ‘expert’ in his field. One can question whether Chef Reuben still has this status, not having made the Top 20 shortlist for the latest Eat Out Top 10 Restaurant Awards, and (ironically) for having damaged his reputation by lending his name to Robertson’s in radio and
TV ads, which have been running for months. Serious food lovers say Chef Reuben has sold out to Robertson’s, and are horrified that he could be using Robertson’s products in his Reuben’s restaurant kitchens! Secondly, the term implies that one would be taught serious dishes, and a simple garlic bread probably has been made by every houseperson, not requiring any explanation or education. No other recipes are on this page yet, disappointing if there is an expectation to learn something new to cook every day, especially over the 18 week duration of MasterChef SA. Odd is the description ‘Chef’s Camp Classes’ on the same page, an alliteration that can be badly misinterpreted! It may have been intended to refer to the ‘bootcamp’ for the 50 MasterChef SA finalists. There is no information yet to show that Chef Reuben was involved with MasterChef SA. On registering on the Robertson’s website, one receives an e-mail, welcoming one to the ‘Robertson’s Masterclass’, and inviting one to ‘Put on your apron, fire up your frying pan and get ready for a delicious journey into the world of Robertsons herbs and spices. As a student of Robertsons Masterclass, you have the chance to craft your everyday culinary skills in your own home. Fill your kitchen with the exotic aromas of nature’s finest flavours as we show you how to use these wonderful ingredients to add vibrancy and fragrance to all your favourite dishes’. Misleading is the claim that one will learn the ‘tricks of the trade from one of South Africa’s best chefs’!
Yesterday I spoke to co-Managing Partner Jay Thomson of Liquorish, the Social Media Marketing agency handling the Robertson’s digital account, to check the company’s policy about blocking Twitter accounts. While not working on this account, he spontaneously said that blocking anyone on a client’s Twitter account is not their agency policy. He took action immediately, and reinforced agency procedures and approval processes, which had not been followed, he shared with me. He apologised personally, and so did the brand on Twitter, honestly admitting its mistake, and Robertson’s reversed the blocking: “Apologies&welcome back guys! Unfortunately processes weren’t followed on our side. Really do value fdback of SAs top foodies!”. Robertson’s Liquorish Account Director Chris Jones also called with an apology. The company did not Tweet anything further for the rest of the day.
Robertson’s will become an interesting FMCG case-study in how not to apply Social Media Marketing in a consumer brand marketing mix. Personal politics do not belong in a business application for a brand, and will do Robertson’s serious harm if its Social Media Manager is allowed to express her personal dislikes and vendettas. I have been assured by Liquorish that this will not happen again, yet cannot be sure if this promise will be honoured, given the Twitter tirade on Ms Cabano’s personal account last night, as well as on her anonymous Twitter account, which was been downright disparaging of her client Robertson’s.
POSTSCRIPT 7/4: Reuben Riffel, Robertsons’ advertising endorser, has presented three more ‘Masterclass’ videos on the Robertsons’ website. A very simple ‘Chocolate Banana’ (but the video is called ‘Braaied Bananas’) ‘Masterclass’ was lightweight, and did not tell one how to make the chocolate sauce, only giving instructions of how to cut the banana and caramelise the sugar sprinkled over it. Another ‘Masterclass’ is for making ‘Cinnamon Crepes’, thinner French-style pancakes Chef Reuben said. A third ‘Masterclass’ video is for ‘Cracked Rosemary and Paprika Potatoes’, the video called ‘Twist’. Interesting is the viewership of the ‘Masterclass’ videos, at 449 views for the ‘Crepes’ video, 195 views for the banana video, 33 views for the potato video, and 559 views for the garlic bread one, which was the first ‘Masterclass’ by Chef Reuben. The viewership statistics must be frustratingly low to Robertsons, given what it must be spending on advertising and its sponsorship of MasterChef SA. The typing error on the Robertsons’ website, identified in this blogpost, has been corrected, but the double-meaning alliterated ‘Chef’s Camp Classes’ has been retained!
POSTSCRIPT 20/4: The link to Another Damned Food Blog, which in October last year wrote a parody about Chef Reuben Riffel’s endorsement of Robertsons, is circulating again. Now that MasterChef SA has started, it is even funnier to read now!
Robertson’s, www.robertsons.co.za Twitter: @RobertsonsSpice (Monday – Saturday only). Episode 2 of MasterChef SA will be broadcast on M-Net at 19h30 this evening.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage