One of the most obvious signs of the deterioration of Venezuela, which had been among Latin America's largest economies, has been the images of queues to get into the supermarkets.

But it's claimed there was another, far more subtle, sign of Venezuela's crumbling economy under the stewardship of President Nicolas Maduro - and it was on the shelves once shoppers managed to get inside the supermarket.

It was the packaging of one of Venezuela's most popular breakfast cereal — the country's version of Frosted Flakes.

Venezuela has been in a fresh crisis mode since late January when Opposition Leader Juan Guaido declared himself to be the rightful president soon after Maduro was sworn in for a controversial second term following disputed elections. Maduro has no intention of handing over the reins of power.


One of the key issues in Venezuela has been the lack of basic supplies of things like food and medicine.

Right now US aid trucks are parked at the border but Maduro, who at this point still holds sway in the country, is refusing to let them in.

Kellogg's, like many western companies, once supplied Venezuela with lots of food and had a large presence in the country both in terms of products and factories. The US firm employed hundreds of people at its Venezuela plant churning out brightly coloured packs of cornflakes and Zucaritas to the supermarkets of Caracas and beyond.

A full colour pack of Kellogg's Zucaritas. Photo / Supplied
A full colour pack of Kellogg's Zucaritas. Photo / Supplied

You've probably never heard of Zucaritas, but it's essentially just a Latin American Frosted Flakes complete with the familiar image of Tony the Tiger springing forth from a blue background.

But in 2016 something odd happened to packs of Kellogg's Zucaritas in Venezuela. The boxes were suddenly shorn of almost all their colours.

The glossy box disappeared replaced by a brown cardboard pack with just a black and white image of Tony. The only colour was a dash of red for the Kellogg's logo.

The company called it a special edition designed to 'take care of our planet'. In a marketing campaign it said the packs had done away with 'chemical coatings', were 100 per cent recyclable and made 'less use of ink'".

Ironically, the ad which heralded the use of fewer colours was itself in full colour.


But Venezuelan social media smelled a rat. The decision to use less ink, many Venezuelans pondered, was less to do with Kellogg's trying to help the planet and more to do with their simply being less ink in the country as the economy went into free fall and supplies dried up.

"Zucaritas is like the country, dark and without colour," said one.

"This 'special edition' is due to the lack of raw material to manufacture the boxes and the need to reduce costs as much as possible to achieve a decent return in a country consumed by inflation.

Kellogg's said the new packs of its best selling Zucaritas cereal in Venezuela was to help the environment but many people had their doubts. Photo / Supplied
Kellogg's said the new packs of its best selling Zucaritas cereal in Venezuela was to help the environment but many people had their doubts. Photo / Supplied

"The real reason for this campaign is not that they want to be ecological, but that they are being forced to be ecological," said another.

In 2017, writing on the independent Caracas Chronicles news blog Francisco Toro wrote: "The dollars (Kellogg's) needed for some key bit of the (manufacturing) process weren't around … and some unfortunate sap in the marketing department got stuck having to put ecological lipstick on that macroeconomic pig."

He even coined the term the "Zucaritas Principle", when a company operating in Venezuela tried to disguise the impact the country's disastrous supply chain is having on its operations.


Others were less suspicious even going as far as saying the new design would "free the imagination" as children would be encouraged to colour in the plain boxes. But even then many thought it was odd that Kellogg would only introduce this type of packaging in Venezuela and not in its other markets.

For its part, Kellogg's has always maintained that its packaging redesign was really all about the environment.

According to news agency Reuters, during 2016 when the stripped back packs were introduced, Venezuela's economy shrunk by 18.6 per cent while inflation soared by a massive 800 per cent.

At the same time, there were continued shortages of key products. Like coatings for cardboard boxes and ink perhaps?

Maduro has blamed the country's woes on an "economic war" against his country co-ordinated by the US.

The contrary view, however, is that Maduro's policies of setting prices in the shops, instigating currency and exchange controls and regulating profits has seen domestic production plummet.


Eventually even Kellogg decided trying to navigate Venezuela's economy was just too hard. In May 2018 it announced it was pulling out of the country.

"The current economic and social deterioration in the country has now prompted the company to discontinue operations," the firm said, although it was vague on the specifics of what prompted the move.

It wasn't the first western brand to hotfoot it from Caracas. In 2016, just as Kellogg's was ridding its cereal boxes of colour, Huggies and Kleenex maker Kimberly-Clark was locking the gates at its Venezuelan factories.

It said it was unable to obtain the raw materials to make its nappies and tissues and was struggling with high inflation.

Like many companies it's likely they also found the government's price controls problematic. Unable to raise prices, hikes in inflation meant many firms were selling goods for below the cost of production. So many stopped manufacturing, exacerbating shortages.

General Motors also left Venezuela, as has US household detergent manufacturer Clorox. Many global airlines including Delta, United, Air Canada and Lufthansa no longer serve Caracas Airport.


Since Kellogg's left the economy has only got worse. In June last year it was estimated the annual inflation rate was running at 25,000 per cent.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Photo / AP
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Photo / AP

In a move straight out of the Maduro playbook, when Kellogg's announced it was leaving, President Maduro ordered his government to seize its factory.

"I've decided to hand the company over to the workers so that they can continue producing for the people," he told a rally.

In a tweet, opposition politician Jose Guerra said of the takeover of the Kellogg plant: "This reminds me of the Clorox case. Operations halted due to lack of raw materials, the government took it over, and now it's paralysed … So that means cornflakes are over."

At the time, Kellogg's warned Venezuela about selling cereal with its name on it, reported Reuters.

"Kellogg's is not responsible for the unauthorised use of the commercial names and brands that are the property of the company and will exercise legal actions available as necessary," the company said.


But the prospect of any overseas company being able to enforce their trademarks in Venezuela under the current government is doubtful.

A version of Zucaritas, in their plain brown boxes and made at the Kellogg's factory but not by Kellogg's, may still be available in the country - even if you have to queue round the block to get them.