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By Ahmed Eljechtimi
RABAT, June 4 (Reuters) - A consumer boycott of some of Morocco’s top brands has slashed sales by half at dairy company Centrale Danone, part of French group Danone, pushing it to a first-half loss, it said on Monday.
Centrale Danone’s profit warning was the most dramatic evidence so far of the damage being inflicted by a consumer boycott campaign aimed at major suppliers of milk, bottled water and petrol in Morocco.
The protest at high prices was launched on Facebook by unknown activists on April 20 against the dairy firm as well as Afriquia fuel stations, owned by the Akwa group of billionaire agriculture minister Aziz Akhanouch, and the Sidi Ali water brand.
Centrale Danone said on Monday it would post a loss of 150 million dirham ($15.84 million) because of the boycott in the six months ending June 30.
It had made a profit of 56 million dirham in the same period a year ago, the company said in a statement.
“The company experienced since the start of the campaign on April 20 a contraction in its activity and a consolidated revenue drop estimated at 50 percent,” Centrale Danone said.
The firm had already said last week it had cut by 30 percent the amount of milk it collects from the 120,000 farmers who supply it.
It also said it will lay off workers on short-term contracts, estimated by a government minister at 1,000 people.
The boycotters launched the campaign to protest at what they say are unfair prices set by large groups linked to a business and political elite, or foreign brands.
“The goal of this boycott is to unite the Moroccan people and speak with one voice against expensive prices, poverty, unemployment, injustice, corruption and despotism,” said one of the boycott pages.
Unlike the dairy company, fuel and water companies have not yet announced any losses due to the boycott and have declined to comment.
However Les Eaux Minérales d’Oulmès, maker of Sidi Ali, has been bussing about 80 people a week to its spring in the Atlas mountains in an attempt to convince consumers its prices are fair, while calling on the government to lower taxes.
The government voiced fears last week that the boycott may put off foreign investors.
This online protest is the first of its kind in Morocco, where a series of protests over poverty and unemployment and corruption have erupted this year and last year described as the most intense since the 2011 unrest that prompted King Mohammed VI to devolve some of his powers to an elected parliament.
$1 = 9.4712 Moroccan dirham Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi Editing by Ulf Laessing, David Goodman and Adrian Croft