Managers at Kraft relied on satellite images provided by Google to work out what Cadbury was planning, as they battled to take over the Birmingham-based chocolate maker last year, it has emerged.
Marc Firestone, executive vice president of Kraft Foods Ltd, insisted his company had been forced to look up information about Cadbury on Google while it was in the middle of a £11.7 billion takeover deal.
US food giant Kraft studied satellite photos of Cadbury’s Polish plant to try to determine what it was being used for.
But he claimed this led the company to make a major mistake – when it promised to save Cadbury’s Somerdale plant in Keynsham, near Bristol.
Cadbury’s previous management had already announced plans to close the site, but in September 2009 Kraft chairman Irene Rosenfeld said: “We believe we would be in a position to continue to operate the Somerdale facility, which is currently planned to be closed, and invest in Bournville, thereby preserving UK manufacturing jobs.”
This led to fury when Kraft eventually won its takeover battle and announced last month that it was closing the Somerdale factory after all.
Mr Firestone told MPs that Kraft was forced to backtrack when it discovered that Cadbury had quietly installed specialist equipment used to make Curly Wurly bars in a factory in Skarbimierz, south west Poland, at a cost of £100 million.
But he was met by scepticism as he gave evidence to the Commons Business Committee this week, which is holding an inquiry into the takeover.
MPs asked him why Kraft didn’t “Google it”.
He replied: “We did Google it. We had satellite images of it. They can only show the exterior of the facility. They could not show the enormous investment and bespoke equipment that Cadbury put into that plant.”
He said equipment used to make confectionary was designed specifically for a particular product – in this case, Curly Wurlys.
Once it had been installed, it made no financial sense not to press ahead with Cadbury’s original plan to move production of Curly Wurly bars to Poland.
Satellite images of almost any location in the world can be obtained by Google using the Google Earth service.
Richard Doyle, Cadbury HR director who was with the Birmingham firm as it tried unsuccessfully to fight off the takeover bid, told the MPs that Cadbury could not have revealed what it was installing in the factory even if it wanted to, because it was legally barred from talking to Kraft.
In a bruising encounter with MPs, Mr Firestone attempted to dispel the perception of Kraft as a maker of processed cheese products, pointing out that it already owned successful chocolate brands which it had nurtured.
He said: “I think one of the misconceptions some people have of us is essentially that we are an American cheese company. We are in fact one of the biggest chocolate companies in the world. I mean, Suchard, Toblerone, Milka and others.”
But he encountered a series of hostile questions from MPs, who poured scorn on his claim that Kraft had never attempted to mislead employees about Somerdale.
Asked if Kraft would behave like “vikings” and pillage Cadbury, he said: “I understand that there are many heartbreaking instances of takeovers and the acquired company is an empty shell within two years.
“I understand that concern. And I assure you that is not at all my intention.”
He added: “We are not, to use the metaphor, going to be Vikings.”