Merendinagate: Moroccans boycott mini-cake brand over love-themed package
A mini-cake brand stirred controversy in Morocco for featuring love-themed designs and expressions on its St.Valentine package.
Merendina, a well-known mini-cake produced by Moroccan company Bimo, which is a subsidiary of American multinational food company Mondelez, decided to celebrate the day of love by adding some expressions in Moroccan dialect to its red packaging. These include 'I love you,' 'I miss you,' and 'I am thinking about you.'
Some packages also feature a veiled girl and a young man hugging on a bench with the expression 'you are always in my heart.'
The new Valentine-themed packaging wasn’t to the taste of many Moroccans, and especially of shopkeepers. An image widely shared on social media showed a box of Merendina cakes in a Moroccan grocery shop with a handwritten note on top that read: 'Not for sale, it contains indecent language.'
In the southern city of Guelmim, the Bab Al Sahara Food Retailers Association released a Facebook statement condemning the product’s new package.
“Following... graphics on Merendina packaging that promote moral decay and degradation, the members and associates of the Bab Al Sahara Food Retailers Association in Guelmim condemn this act," read the statement.
While some shopkeepers did not mind selling the product, others joined the boycott accusing Bimo of “exposing Moroccan children to western culture”, and “sharing indecent and vulgar expressions in their products”.
The news of the boycott triggered a heated debate, under the hashtag #Merendinagate, on Moroccan laws and the concept of love and personal freedoms in Moroccan society.
"Things are clear and cannot be packaged... A product that children consume must carry messages directed to children... As for this lack of modesty, the morals and principles of the Muslim appear here... The boycott [of Merendina] elevates you [from a religious viewpoint]," tweeted Asmae, a Moroccan user with a female name.
In contrast, others praised the brand's initiative. Leila, a 23-year-old Moroccan student, told The New Arab that "it’s a lovely initiative. You can give the mini-cake to your lover, your friends, and your parents as a lovely gift. I cannot see anything controversial in that.".
Social movement Moroccan Outlaws, which runs campaigns against article 490 of the Moroccan penal code on the ground of its criminalisation of sexual relationships outside the wedlock, also joined the debate on Twitter.
"As for the Merendina gate, we will NEVER repeat it enough: Love is not a crime. ... And we must fight as long as we have laws that... criminalise Love!" said the tweet.
Art. 490 of the Moroccan penal code punishes sex between unmarried couples with up to one year in jail.
Moroccan Outlaws also took the opportunity to highlight on its Instagram page how the criminalisation of consensual sexual relationships outside wedlock has cemented the spurn of tenderness and love.
The movement shared an edited picture of a policeman, who stands next to the couple pictured on the Merendina package and tells them: 'Follow me to the police station.' The meme sought to depict what Moroccan couples are subjected to in public places - as holding hands, kissing or hugging, can often lead to being arrested.
This isn’t the first love-themed campaign for Merendina. Bimo started releasing similar advertisements in 2017. In 2020 it rebranded the mini-cake with the slogan 'let your heart melt' in Moroccan dialect. This was already the subject of a heated discussion on social media back then.
Bimo and Mondelez have yet to respond officially to the ongoing controversy.