Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Ikea Meatballs - More Horsing Around

The latest retailer to fall under the hooves of horsegate is Swedish low cost furniture company Ikea. Funny, isn't it, how this is hitting low cost brands so hard? It seems like wherever there's been excessive pressure to cut costs and the presence of 'white label' food processors in the supply chain, a little whinny can be heard.

Interestingly, Ikea's UAE website doesn't have any information relating to the recall (at the time of writing), although Ikea's Swedish site does have a flash that points to a press release detailing the recall - Ikea says it tested its food products two weeks ago for horse DNA but that a fresh test has come up with the goods and so they have recalled the product. All fair and good.

Oddly, the company identified as being at the heart of the adulteration of Ikea's iconic meatballs, Swedish food processor, Familjen Dafgård, has made no changes to its website apart from posting a press announcement (with no links from the home page) on its otherwise moribund 'press releases' section - there are two other releases on there, one from 2011 and one from 2012. The company's statement, in Swedish only but brought to you by the marvel and occasional strangeness that is Google Translate. In its entirety, is as follows:
We have received information from a Czech laboratory that a party meatballs may contain traces of horse meat.
Current batch has been closed and we are investigating the situation.
We perform ongoing extensive own DNA analysis. We continue our sampling to investigate the situation.
We will further test results within the next few days and can provide more information in the case.
(my bold)

You'd be forgiven for thinking that's not really the hottest of responses. It's certainly very sparse indeed compared to Ikea's much more comprehensive and informative recall announcement. Amusingly, as the eagle-eyed among you may already have spotted from the website grab above, the Familjen Dafgård website still flashes up pictures of the company's delicious meatballs. Mmmm!

This company is in what we in the business call a PR crisis. It is the subject of global media attention and is potentially responsible for sickening and letting down tens of thousands of consumers across Europe as well as dropping Ikea, a major customer, in the dung. The only reason I'm saying potentially is because some media outlets have stopped short of naming the company as specifically responsible at this stage, although the New York Times (linked above) does name it. The doubts over its Ikea products have to cast doubts over  the company's other products, including the lovely lasagne that is such a prominent feature of its home page. We all know what's in cheap lasagne these days, don't we kids? Yup, "Newmarket Steak"!

'Within the next few days' simply isn't an option any more. You need to react with blinding speed, get as much information as you can out there and keep it flowing. If you have a website, you need to update it fast with consumer information. Ideally, you would already have developed 'dark sites' for potential crises, however notionally unthinkable, and then work on managing your response to consumer concern with all the resources at your disposal. Dark sites are ready-made webpages that you can cut to immediately

Even without a 'dark site' Your website needs to change to meet the circumstances. Joyfully promoting  meat balls on the homepage when your meat ball products have been recalled from stores around Europe is not what you'd call smart.

You need to get to the truth as quickly as possible, show that you're interested and committed to that process and share as much as you sensibly (and responsibly) can as it surfaces. You need to establish clear lines of communication for media and consumers alike and ensure that you have a statement of your position out as quickly as possible - ideally using multiple media platforms.

You need to find out what went wrong, fast. And then you need to fix it. And tell people how you've fixed it. Because needing a few days to investigate your supply chain in the current environment is really something of a worry. You've had weeks of notice that something's wrong out there. You look incredibly complacent as a result.

You don't need to do all this to minimise the immediate impact of the crisis and media coverage. You do this because today is the first day of your long road back to regaining consumer trust and confidence. Sticking your fingers in your ear and shouting lalalala does not, I submit, do this.

And, by the way, in the current environment, any company that is involved in the manufacture, sale or distribution of foodstuffs (and, yes, I'm including hotels and restaurants) that doesn't have a comprehensive crisis plan in place that includes digital platforms at the heart of the plan is simply totally insane.

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