Thursday, January 22, 2009

Maple Leaf forever - lessons learned

Doug Powell of the Food Safety Network passes on a link to a story headlined "Maple Leaf Forever." The story on cites the Canadian company's public relations campaign that has sped its recovery from a listeria outbreak last year linked to its meat products that killed an astounding 20 people and sickened many more. From the story:

Market research pollster Hotspex surveyed nearly 4,200 Canadian shoppers for Maple Leaf and found consumer confidence in the brand between September and December 2008 had risen from 64 to 91 per cent, in part because of a public-relations campaign some are hailing as the best example of corporate crisis-management since Johnson & Johnson responded to the discovery of cyanide-laced Tylenol capsules in the United States in 1982.
"I think time will show that they have significantly redefined the way corporate entities will respond in crisis situations in the future," says Bob Reid, chief media strategist at Toronto-based Veritas Communications.


The latest phase of the trust-rebuilding campaign includes two TV ads, introduced this month, that show Maple Leaf microbiologists working with meat at the Toronto plant, and later serving it to their children at home.

The commercials' taglines read: "Passionate people, passionate about food."

The company isn't tipping its hand on whether more of these "consumer confidence ads" are planned, but Smith says the hope is that they'll be able to return to more traditional brand-based marketing soon.

The company has also launched a website dedicated to keeping the public in step with its action plan, which consumers have the option of opening when they arrive at Maple Leaf Foods' online home ( Smith says the hope is that these combined efforts will see the brand fully rebound sometime between February and August.

TK:What's the lesson learned? Speed over accuracy is one takeaway, according to one marketing professor. Read on....

Sylvain Charlebois, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Regina, believes Maple Leaf's emphasis of speed over precision was what made the deepest inroads with consumers.

"NASA, in the case of Challenger in 1986, was so obsessed with accuracy that they didn't have anything to say to the public. And the public started to become very skeptical about the organization and its ability to manage risk properly," says Charlebois.

"Maple Leaf decided to focus on speed and dissemination of information over accuracy. Accuracy would come later ... And it's become clear that they have won the battle of perception - at least early on."

TK: Wouldn't it be great if the produce industry had a "war fund," where it would have on the ready resources necessary to be able to communicate its message on television in a time-sensitive way, particularly in the event of a foodborne illness outbreak? Aggressive consumer messaging about produce safety is lacking in the industry, I think.

Below is the commercial from Maple Leaf Foods president that apologizes for the outbreak.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Tylenol case is the often quoted textbook example. Unfortunately, safety vulnerabilities in the processing and distribution of fresh foods cannot be dealt with as easily or as simply as placing tamper-proof seals in the bottles.
Reaction speed and the careful (lawsuits) recognition of the error (apology) can go a long way to reassure consumers but may also end up being a double edged sword if the fundamental problem persists and another outbreak occurs soon after.