Crisis Coach: Good Earth Tea Recall Recovers

by coach on November 4, 2010

Good Earth Tea recall handled responsibly

Good Earth® is a well known US herbal tea company. Last week, it announced a voluntary recall of its “Caffeine Free Original” blend tea sold in CA Costco stores and Trader Joe’s in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada and Pennsylvania.

A batch of the caffeine-free tea was suspected of possibly containing salmonella. Good Earth’s news release warned of the risk that it “can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems.” The company asked consumers to return the tea or destroy it just to be safe. So far, so good.

There was a problem with this recall though as with the Pictsweet frozen vegetable recall I covered last week. Companies don’t seem to be going far enough informing consumers of product recalls.

You can read the initial news release to judge for yourself whether they did enough in responding: Good Earth Tea Voluntarily Recalls Limited Amount of Caffeine Free Original Blend Due to Possible Health Risk.

My first response was they could have done better. That was last Friday.

I’m happy to report that this week Good Earth added the news release to the front page of their website. Media contacts are in this version of the news release. Kudos to them for posting the release on their website though it took nearly a week.

I think their response could still be stronger in several ways:

  • Add a senior level company spokesman and quote them so you know they care.
  • The available hours to call with product concerns or consumer questions is confined to Monday to Friday business hours. What if concerns arise on the weekend?
  • Revise the release posted on PR Newswire’s website so media contacts are available for future reference.
  • Add a “newsroom” on the company website – for bad and good news; include product shots, logo.
  • Ensure 24 x 7 media contacts, even through an answering service, are available.

I completely understand companies not wanting to mix “bad news” with marketing. But responsible companies must, like Good Earth, go the extra mile especially when product safety or quality is an issue.

It also shouldn’t be so difficult for media to find, talk to or e-mail a spokesperson on a product recall.

I also wonder why FDA and other regulators don’t require companies to go farther? FDA could easily require companies to post recall info to company or product websites.

From a strategy point of view, companies can and often do split their product and corporate websites for precisely this reason; so as not to mix financial, corporate or organizational concerns with the happy, mostly positive side of product marketing.

There are lots of lessons to be learned in product recalls whether they are minor as in Good Earth tea or more serious and requiring crisis management.

At the end of the day, a company’s reputation and the strength of its brand are both on display and subject to careful scrutiny by consumers. As Tylenol showed, the more transparent and open companies are, the more trusted their brand and products will be in the future.

Though there’s more that could be done, Good Earth went an extra step compared with many FDA recalls. Had they not posted their news release to their website, this would be a far tougher look at how their recall was handled.

Let’s hope other companies re-examine how they respond to product issues too. In the event of a more serious product recall, companies can face overwhelming crisis management challenges.

Lots more crisis planning and crisis management tips and resources in the PR Library. Let us know if you’ve seen other recalls handled better or worse and what you’d do differently.

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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Photo credit: Good Earth

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