Published on: April 15, 2015by Kate McMahon
This is the tale of two food safety recalls linked to the potentially life-threatening bacterium listeria, and social media’s crucial, fast-evolving role in crisis management.
I paid particular attention to the most recent recall – of 30,000 cases of Sabra Classic Hummus – since I had just polished off a single size portion of the product with a handful of pita chips when the announcement started trending on Facebook. Happily, I could click on Sabra’s page and determine in less than a minute my hummus was not one of the 360,000 suspect containers.
The Sabra recall was launched last week after Michigan health inspectors found several tubs of Classic Hummus at the Kroger in Port Huron tested positive for the food-borne bacteria. Thus far, no illnesses have been linked to the Sabra product.
The ongoing recall of Blue Bell Ice Cream products – the company’s first in 108 years -- is far more complicated. The multi-state recall has been expanded three times since March, involving more than two dozen products sold to retailers and institutional customers, and manufactured in plants in Texas and Oklahoma. The CDC reports that eight illnesses in Kansas and Texas are linked to this outbreak, resulting in three deaths.
Spinach was the culprit in the other recent listeria-related recalls that involved both fresh packaged greens and frozen products (Amy’s Kitchen, Rising Moon Organics) sold at retailers including Wegman’s, Target, Costco and Meijer, according to foodsafetynews.com.
Listeria is a bacterium that can cause high fevers, headaches and nausea. It can be particularly dangerous in children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems.
The current Sabra and Blue Bell recalls illustrate the importance of having established social media channels and a team that can respond quickly to such developments. In this case, Sabra Dipping Co. – the nation’s leading refrigerated dip maker co-owned by Pepsi and Strauss – is in a much stronger position than Texas–based Blue Bell, which is the second highest selling ice cream brand in the United States.
Sabra has an active Facebook page with almost 530,000 “likes” and a lesser presence on Twitter. I had to really seek out Blue Bell’s Facebook page, first coming across one that hadn’t been updated since 2011. I then found the “current” page, which showed its last post in December 2014, with 109,000 likes. There was no activity until the recall notices started March 13, and four recall-related posts since then. When searching Twitter, the first Blue Bell reference that popped up was from a personal injury law firm advertising to those who were sick from eating Blue Bell ice cream.
Here’s what Sabra is doing right: The recall information is very specific, with clear graphics explaining where customers can find the SKU and expiration dates for the recalled products. Just as importantly, the social media team is responding to all of the Facebook posts from very worried customers, particularly pregnant women. Yes, many of the posts are the same (contact your personal physician for health concerns, apologizing for busy telephone lines early on) but by answering each post with the person’s name; it makes the company’s response more personal, and more meaningful.
By contrast, Blue Bell’s Facebook page does not include any response from the company. Blue Bell certainly has a devoted customer base in the 21 states where its ice cream is sold, but I think it is failing those customers by not engaging in any kind of a dialogue with them.
I think it’s even more important for Blue Bell to be proactive with consumers since ice cream products can stay in the freezer for up to a year, and there are so many flavors/products involved. The Sabra products, by contrast, were limited to five SKUs and had expiration dates of May 11 or May 15.
A piece in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal quoted three public relations experts criticizing Blue Bell’s response to the crisis as too little, too late. I have not yet seen any PR guru’s take on Sabra’s reaction, but from a social media standpoint I think Sabra is making the right moves, and Blue Bell is falling short.
The site FoodQualityNews.com cited a recent study of 405 consumer product recalls between 2000 and 2012, finding that interactive social media decreases the negative market reaction compared to firms that do not use Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds and corporate blogs.
The key word in that sentence is “interactive” – companies need to engage with consumers, not just delivering information but appearing empathetic, sincere, and in some cases, apologetic. Over the course of the study, the number of firms using social media escalated from about a third to 97%.
The takeaway here is clear – if you deliver products or services to consumers, it is imperative you have a social media presence and are ready to respond immediately to a crisis.
Comments? As always, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
- KC's View: