Dead bird in salad serves up Tesco crisis

by PR Coach on February 21, 2013

Tesco salad allegedly contained dead bird; company unresponsive so far

This is one of those shocking stories about food product problems that tabloid TV and newspapers love. Before UK retailer Tesco could respond effectively, the story’s going viral.

Forget the UK horsemeat scandal. The Metro News headline said it all:

Dead bird five inches long found in Tesco ‘ready to eat’ salad.”

Within minutes, the story was picked up on numerous UK media websites, competing newspapers and social media.

The problem for retailer Tesco is they appear to have not responded well to the initial customer complaint according to the Metro News:

“The next morning he went straight to their local branch of Tesco in Yate, South Gloucestershire, and the store manager later visited their home with a bottle of wine and some flowers.

Tesco – which was this week voted Britain’s worst supermarket by customers - has apologised to the couple and offered them a £200 gift card.

But Mr Watson said the offer is insulting and says he has no plans to shop at Tesco again.

‘I would really like someone from Tesco to sit down and explain me how an animal so large got into a bag of salad,’ he said.

‘The magnitude of this was disgraceful and I find the offer of compensation a bit of an insult.’”

How to respond to social media crises

This story highlights a huge problem for grocery stores and food producers.

You have employees and managers who must decide the truth of a customer complaint on sometimes scarce facts.

With the instant news cycle on social media, there’s no time to investigate before needing to respond on the record.

I have significant crisis management experience. One fundamental lesson is to never take a customer complaint lightly. It can backfire.

Case in point – a popular frozen, slushy drink sold by a multinational convenience store chain. A customer complained that there was a foul taste and smell in their drink. They called the regional manager to complain. First crisis tip. Listen carefully.

The customer refused to hand over the drink until receiving a large cash payment for “pain and suffering.” Tip two. Assume the worst and get ready for a firestorm.

The customer threatened to go to the media. Tip three. See crisis tip number two.

Not wanting to deal with what was starting to feel like a fishy situation, the manager dismissed the complaint, hoping it would go away. Crisis tip four.

The customer went to the local tabloid newspaper and the next day a front-page story appeared with a headline screaming “Toxic [name of slushy drink].”

In the newspaper story, the customer alleged that store cleaning fluid had somehow gotten into their frozen drink. And that the retailer had failed to respond.

Fortunately, this was before the era of social media. We were left gathering facts, belatedly preparing the client for response and trying to handle a slew of follow-up media inquiries across the country. All preventable.

Ultimately, product analysis proved that anti-freeze had been added to the drink. Police began investigating charges against the customer. Retractions were made in the media. But of course they never matched the sensational headline.

In relative terms, compared to Tesco’s issue, that story happened in slow motion.

How should Tesco respond?

Tesco store sign responsibly farmed

Tesco store sign says “responsibly farmed” but product packaging and supplier quality control questions remain

I can only imagine how Tesco is trying to catch up and respond to this incident. Or are they?

A Mail Online story says a similar bird-in-salad incident happened 15 months earlier. Not to mention a six-legged live praying mantis in a stuffing mix in December.

The Times reported Tesco’s response to the distressed customer:

” Tesco said: “We were concerned to learn of this issue and have investigated thoroughly with our supplier.

“Both we and our suppliers have robust measures in place to prevent incidents such as this, and our salad leaves go through complex filtering and washing systems.

“We have been in contact with our customer to reassure them how seriously we have taken this matter, and offered them a gesture of goodwill.”

Doesn’t seem strong enough to me. It’s enough to put you off Duck à l’Orange forever.

More than 10 hours later, a check of the Tesco Customer Care Twitter account @TescoUK shows no mention of the incident. Life seems rosy in Tesco Lala land.

Meanwhile, the story and the jokes proliferate on Twitter:

Tesco food quality issue generates jokes

Twitter full of Tesco comments, jokes with no sign of company response after 10 hrs

Believe me. This story is just getting going on social media.

A look at the Tesco website newsroom and blog equally show no acknowledgment or response yet to this bird salad scandal. Though there is a fluffy news release about the availability of the new James Bond thriller.

And the official @TescoMedia Twitter feed similarly avoids any mention of the issue:

No official @TescoMedia Twitter response after 10 hours

This is a classic social media crisis where Twitter is an ideal way to respond, even with a holding statement.

Tesco CEO video on horsemeat scandalOn February 15th, a website home page video by the CEO pledged new measures to rebuild customer trust in response to the horsemeat scandal. The company offers an upcoming “new website” to show in real-time the food chain and care Tesco takes in its products.

Already slow to respond to the horsemeat scandal, it’s hardly surprising they’ve been unable to respond yet to this newest bird salad crisis.

That’s the bottom line for crisis management in today’s social media, real-time news cycle.

You need a real-time response. Just as in customer service online, nothing else will be acceptable.

Let me say that again. A real-time crisis needs a real-time response in key channels.

Even if it’s to simply say you’re investigating and doing your best. Updated when you’re able. Closed off when you can say you’ve dealt with the issue. Proven by showing you have new policies and procedures in place.

So far, it seems that crisis management best practices are not in place for Tesco. All of which is leading to further bad PR.

I don’t envy the company in dealing with this runaway crisis. But no response is not good enough.

Stay tuned for much, much more on this social media crisis.

What do you think? Does this lack of crisis response makes sense when the story is happening all around you? Love to hear your comments below.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: Metro News UK, Tesco