3 PR and marketing lessons from Fresh Del Monte’s recall

More than 200 consumers fell ill after consuming certain vegetable trays from the produce distributor, but the company’s crisis response seems lacking. Consider these insights.

Crises often show PR and marketing pros what to do—or what to avoid.

The recent recall of Fresh Del Monte products, in light of reports of cyclosporiasis infections, is an example of the latter.

CBS News reported:

Health officials have reported 212 cases linked with recalled Del Monte 6 oz. and 12 oz. vegetable trays in Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, and Michigan. Seven people had to be hospitalized. The company is also recalling these veggie trays in the state of Wisconsin, as well as 28 oz. veggie trays which include broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery and dill dip, which were distributed to Illinois and Indiana.

… The recalled products were distributed to the following stores: Kwik Trip, Kwik Star, Demond’s, Sentry, Potash, Meehan’s, Country Market, FoodMax Supermarket, and Peapod.

The news follows an outbreak announcement published June 15 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fortune reported:

A recall was also issued in mid-June for the Del Monte trays, which included baby carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, and dill dip, and were labeled for sale by Jun 17. But the number of infections has grown since then, and the CDC is warning that more cases could still be reported, because the cyclosporiasis infection has a delayed onset for symptoms of roughly one week and can last for weeks. Anyone who might still have a recalled product should dispose of it—washing contaminated produce is not enough to get rid of the pathogen.

The New York Times reported:

The infection can cause a host of stomach-related illnesses, fever and fatigue, and symptoms typically show up one week after the contaminated food was consumed. That means that the number of cases could continue to climb as more people start reporting their illnesses.

It is also one of the main reasons that cyclosporiasis is so difficult to understand, said Michael T. Osterholm, a professor at the University of Minnesota and an international food-borne disease expert.

Here are three lessons brand managers can learn from the recall:

1. Get ahead of the crisis with effective PR.

Though Fresh Del Monte issued a voluntary recall of the potentially infected vegetables, there is virtually no crisis response beyond the recall announcement published by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The company also posted the following about its sustainability efforts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram:

The post seems odd coming from a company with a recall for a cyclosporiasis infection.

PR and marketing pros should monitor conversations and news across channels and platforms and be prepared to respond at a moment’s notice. Otherwise innocuous posts can add fuel to the fire after a crisis hits, so monitoring your own feeds can help catch such posts and potential pitfalls.

Though preparing for a crisis can help you handle the situation, brand managers who respond with transparency and keep their audiences informed can quickly regain trust.

2. Invest in social media as a long-term strategy.

Fresh Del Monte’s YouTube channel appears abandoned. Its most recent video was uploaded six months ago. It’s the company’s corporate Christmas card. Roughly a year ago, 26 videos were uploaded in the span of several weeks. The videos are a mix of ads, recipes and corporate promotional videos shot with a humorous script.

The company’s Twitter account, Facebook page and Instagram profile have almost the exact same content, posted in the same order. It also lists its corporate office via Google Maps as part of its social media profile buttons—but lists it under the Google Plus icon.

Social media is not a “one and done” tactic, nor is it a communications strategy that yields immediate results. PR and marketing pros must listen to their organizations’ target audiences and then thoughtfully build relationships based on strategic campaigns and efforts that involve more than showcasing corporate messaging.

Your boss or client might think that if a video on YouTube or a posting strategy on Facebook isn’t netting viral attention within a few weeks, social media shouldn’t get portions of PR and marketing budgets. However, many social media efforts take time to yield results. You can pivot after evaluating analytics and stacking it against your strategic decisions.

3. Distinguish your brand.

The recent recall is not from Del Monte Foods, but rather from Fresh Del Monte Produce, which is a separate company that sells its products with the Del Monte name and label.

In a 2012 article, The New York Times reported:

… The two companies were created out of what had been a single Del Monte after the takeover of its corporate owner, RJR Nabisco, in 1989.

Under the terms of two licensing agreements between the two companies, Fresh Del Monte has the right to sell “fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and fresh produce” under the Del Monte name, while Del Monte Foods has the right to sell canned and preserved fruits, vegetables and produce.

That might seem like a fairly straightforward division of the spoils, but the two companies have fought over those terms ever since, each accusing the other of encroaching on its turf.

Because both companies use the same logo and branding, it has created confusion for consumers. Del Monte’s social media team has responded to people tweeting about the recall or asking them questions with tweets such as the following:

Articles in publications such as Good Housekeeping and USA Today only mention the name “Del Monte,” and additional articles carry that name in headlines.

The confusion might take some heat off Fresh Del Monte, but it highlights the importance of branding and distinguishing your PR and marketing messages, along with your value proposition.

Brand managers can mitigate reputational damage by quickly responding after crises hit (or, if possible, before they affect your organization) and keeping consumers informed.

What do you think of Fresh Del Monte’s crisis response, PR Daily readers?

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