Recently, I’ve been spending a good chunk of time consulting on the best ways to communicate to various stakeholders when facing a dairy product recall. Nobody wants to hear the word “recall,” much less deal with all of the headaches and potential loss of profit — sometimes even lives — associated with one.
But I’ve got to tell you, I’m loving the recent Chobani recall.
Why? Because it’s a textbook case of how such an event actually can strengthen a company’s relationship with its customers, suppliers and industry partners.
As dairy farm executives, you have all kinds of measures in place to help you discover the root of a potential problem on your farm, and you expect your cooperative or processing partner to do the same. But clean-in-place systems, thorough recordkeeping and all the other QA/QC trappings won’t help the farm or company that fails to communicate openly with its customers. And that’s where the Chobani team has excelled and provided us with a fantastic example to follow.
Take a look at the company’s website: See the careful, forthright way Chobani addresses what’s happened, offers updates and takes responsibility? Take a look at its blog: Titles like “Our Promise To You” do more for consumer confidence than any lawyer-approved, long-winded press release about recall particulars could. They set up new website links specifically to address the recall. They hired more customer service representatives. They used social media to communicate in real time just what the company knew as well as what it didn’t know.
Certainly the imagery is not lost on us. The large, close-up photograph of Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya’s concerned, intense expression tells us he’s there, he’s working the problem and — most importantly — he cares about us. Another large, close-up graphic featuring the top of a lid of the company’s yogurt walks concerned consumers through exactly what the lot and plant identification codes mean vis a vis this recall. They said time and time again some version of the following: “Nothing is more important to us than responding to and connecting with our fans—including, and most importantly, those who have a less than perfect experience. Every day we set out to do that just a little bit better.”
But the company doesn’t stop there. Its next moves underscore its sincerity. Mid-October, Chobani announced a $1.5 million donation to Cornell University to fund a dairy quality research program, as well as the hire of a vice president for global quality, food safety and regulatory affairs. That’s putting your money where you customers’ mouths are — and all over a mold that doesn’t carry disease. I wonder what Chobani officials would have done in the face of a wave of sickness related to their product. I wonder if other yogurt manufacturers would have undertaken such a campaign to address what’s essentially a spoilage issue vs. a safety one.