Plan your recall strategy before the horse bolts

By David Pickering

- Last updated on GMT

Handled well, a crisis can strengthen relationships with customers, said David Pickering
Handled well, a crisis can strengthen relationships with customers, said David Pickering

Related tags: Product recall, Consumer protection, Food

The furore surrounding the horsemeat scandal seems to have settled for the time being. But let’s not forget an estimated 10M beef burgers, among other products, were removed from supermarket shelves across the country. Perhaps this calm offers an opportunity to review recall strategies before the next crisis.

It is a valuable opportunity to revisit best practice for handling a food product recall and to ensure that brand reputation is protected and that the health of the consumer is at the top of the agenda.

First, it is all about planning. If the past few months are anything to go by, no company is immune from a possible recall, wherever the fault lies.

Every business that provides a product or a service must ensure that there is an established recall plan in place to mitigate any potential situation from spiralling out of control. But it isn’t good enough to leave this plan to gather dust for years on end. It must be fluid and updated regularly even if a situation has yet to emerge.

Linked directly to this is the need to react with speed and be prepared at any time. The strange thing about a recall in general, and the food sector is no exception, is that it gives the brand in question the opportunity to enhance its reputation. But it must be handled with speed and decisiveness. Any delay and the reputation of the brand will lie in tatters.

Strengthen relationships

But handled well, a crisis can strengthen relationships with customers by improving the way they view a brand. It can also enhance a reputation for responsibility, accountability and transparency.

We conducted research around this area and found that nearly three quarters of consumers (72%) would consider a repeat purchase following a recall if they had a good experience.

It is also imperative that any customer service function, whether in-house or outsourced, is up to speed, with accurate databases in place. This helps provide a fuller picture of the customer so there’s an idea of who needs to be spoken to and how they’d like to receive personal, proactive communications from the brand.

Having all channels covered is also vital; whether that’s on the phone where customers will be contacting the brand to seek reassurances, or through social media where people are likely to be venting anger or frustration.

Customer service teams must be trained appropriately to deal with this type of situation and well-versed in the company line as quickly as possible to minimise risk. It is also best to have a dedicated recall helpline number already in place that can just be switched on as soon as a crisis occurs.

Social media

When it comes to social media, while many brands are hesitant to adopt it due to the speed that a crisis can spread, it is a channel that can be used to a brand’s advantage. It is vital to ensure that your team in place is upskilled enough to manage this during a food crisis recall.

Social media allows a brand to react in real time and correct any reported inaccuracies and in today’s society, that is what consumers demand. But beware; staying quiet when you have a social media presence is a bad idea as it infuriates consumers as they seek the immediate answers.

Finally, someone at the company must take responsibility for keeping the Food Standards Agency and local environmental health teams in the loop. This ranges from the disposal of the recalled products through to the actual volumes of stock taken off the shelves. Ensure that this person is aware of his role and is ready to act at any moment in time.

Predict a crisis

To conclude, the best practice when it comes to a food recall is to be prepared. The more prepared a brand is, the less the chance of a recall spiralling out of control. You can’t always predict a crisis – but you can identify potential risk areas and put plans in place that enable you to take control and manage an emergency efficiently, giving those who are affected a positive experience.

While all recalls are potentially dangerous, food recalls present potentially serious consequences due to the far reaching ramifications with people’s health. A well-planned, quick, decisive and speedy response will go a long way to ensuring that any food recall is handled in the best way possible for all involved parties.

The latest advice on product recalls will be available at Food Manufacture’s​ one-day Food Safety conference to be staged at the National Motorcycle Museum, near Birmingham on Thursday October 17. More details are available here​.

*David Pickering is chairman and md of marketing agency Eclipse​.

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