Bad PR: Organic Food Bar Recall Woeful

by PR Coach

Organic Food Bars Recalled

Two important lessons for small business this week. First, product recalls demand flawless communications. Second, be smarter in your social media. It’s bad PR to leave dead links, old info and unfulfilled promises on your website, blog or other channels.

Do you have a potentially fatal peanut allergy? If so, you’re very careful about the products you buy and consume. Reading product labels is second nature because eating a product with undisclosed peanuts or even traces of peanuts can be fatal.

Given that risk to consumers, a recent voluntary product recall by Fullerton, CA-based Organic Food Bar, Inc (Organic) was utterly inadequate.

Organic recalled specific lots of its Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Bars™ in mid-April 2011 due to possible cross-contamination of cashew butter with peanut allergen by a supplier. The bars were distributed nationally to retailers in the US and Canada and sold on the company website.

Its first news release via the FDA website was issued on April 15, 2011 (Organic Food Bar, Inc. Issues Allergy Alert on Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Raw Organic Food Bars).

Organic said its food bars were being recalled “because they may contain undeclared peanut proteins. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these lots of products.”

So far so good, except when you look closely at their overall effort to inform consumers. The news release is incomplete. No website link, no personal contact provided for media or consumers, no product photos and no product links. A visit to Organic’s website had no warnings or information regarding the recall. The website newsroom had no recall information and was sadly out of date.

A second news release was issued on April 28, 2011 (Organic Food Bar, Inc. Expands its Voluntary Recall on Chocolatey Chocolate Chip Bars to Include Additional Products and Lots).

The recall update added another seven products “because they may contain undeclared peanut proteins from cashew butter supplied by one of the vendors. These bars are being recalled because they are made with the same lot of cashew butter that was used in previously tested chocolatey chocolate chips bars.”

There was one small improvement in this second news release. It contained a link to product labels for the seven products. Again, the website and newsroom contained no warnings or information about the previous or new product recalls.

What’s up with that?

Given how other companies like Liz Lovely carefully handle their recall communications, Organic’s effort was simply inadequate even if voluntary.

Seems to me, when a company sells product online, it’s important to inform consumers online and on the sales website too? Consumers may not see traditional media coverage of the product recall or any issues with products.

Organic promotes its healthy, organic food products. It has lots of product information available. It has a friendly kids section of its website. Its online store appears easy to use. You have to wonder why they don’t carry these strengths over into product recall information both in its news release and on its website?

The PR Recipe for More Effective Recalls?

I’ve covered some of the ways that companies can improve their recall communications in previous posts.

In its news release, Organic could easily:

  • Add a personal contact for media and consumers
  • Include a sincere apology or express regret by a senior executive
  • Provide a link to the company website
  • Include links to product photos
  • Indicate what it is doing to remedy the problem.

On its website, Organic should:

  • Add a consumer-friendly news release, product fact sheet, product recall info and product photos to its newsroom.
  • Have a “product recall” link or “starburst” on its home page linking to a page with recall information.
  • The recall information page should include a statement by a senior company executive and recall information taken from the news materials.
  • In its Twitter posts and on its Facebook page it should mention the recalls. It doesn’t.
  • The recall information could be easily updated when the issue is resolved.
  • In the future, let retail partners and consumers know in an update how you’ve resolved the problem.

This would be a great start towards more transparent communication with consumers. Wouldn’t this enhance the company’s reputation? Think how much better consumers would feel towards the company and its products with this approach.

These are not expensive or difficult efforts to take in a product recall. They may in fact be smarter business practice because they reduce the risk, probably lower liability and show that the company has made its best effort to inform consumers.

Social Media Strategy Looks Good, Doesn’t Deliver

These days, small business has embraced the Internet for marketing, sales, customer service, product information, media relations and community building. After seeing the inadequate recall response, I was curious to see how Organic uses social media.

At first glance, it seems to have numerous social media connections with consumers including a newsroom, blog, newsletter, podcast, branded clothing, FAQs and research info.

Appearances are deceiving. On closer examination, the company has abandoned updating many of these components and sadly still left some links and old information in place:

  • The home page links to a podcast billed as “Captivating. Inspirational. Informative. Entertaining.” Unfortunately, only one episode was ever produced on July 14, 2008 and it’s highly promotional.
  • A newsletter called “Organic Living” has a sign-up box but no archive of back issues leading one to wonder if the newsletter is active. I received no follow-up or confirmation of my free subscription.
  • A link to OFB Apparel has no clothing, despite a promise to introduce a full line of clothing yet the link remains active.
  • The “Relevant Research” section has four items about flax from April 2, 2008. No context, not consumer-friendly and therefore not really worth featuring.

    Blog ceased publication in 2009

  • The Official Organic Food Bar™ Blog started in September 2007 and stopped publishing in October 2009. No new posts and some links to clips and videos are not working or out of date.
  • Oddly, the Organic website has no active links to the company’s presence on Twitter and Facebook. That’s poor tactics.
  • Organic has a presence on Twitter @organicfoodbar with an impressive 13,631 followers. However, it’s not too active and there is no mention of its product recall in a medium that is perfect for such information.
  • Organic has an attractive Facebook page but no interaction and few updates. Again, no mention of its product recall, where it would have been easy to do and appropriate.
  • The newsroom is not effective. There are no items with “real news.” It’s out of date. The last update was a July 12, 2009 legal letter from the CEO. Several news links were not working and most of the Logo links to media coverage were non-active.
  • Nowhere are there resources that media expect and can easily use such as: product fact sheets, product photos, company background and management bios, industry perspectives and third-party information of value to a reporter.  On the FAQ page though, there was a fact sheet and downloadable logos though no product photos. These really should be in the newsroom. The media contact number listed went to an unidentified answering machine.

OFB Kids is fun, well-designed

Despite these criticisms, the Organic website had several features that were well done: its design is attractive; the products are nicely photographed and very tastily presented; navigation and finding retailers were easy and the online store is easy to use; the FAQs were helpful; the customer stories was a nice feature although they felt scripted; and the Organic Food Bar Kids section was fun and well done.

The website has potential but it badly needs to be updated, cleaned up and fine-tuned. The social media strategy needs a revisit and the same fine tuning.

The lesson when it comes to social media is clear. There’s no excuse for abandoning social media elements and leaving them online like a decaying farmstead. If you’re going to do it, you need to keep everything current. It’s a commitment that requires resources and it’s never a good idea to try and take on too much.

If Organic cleaned up its website, revitalized or closed its blog, and concentrated on Twitter and Facebook, it would be much further ahead with its PR and marketing. As it stands now, it shows very poorly and doesn’t enhance credibility.

Ironically, this post started out as a look at poor product recall communications . It’s ended up as a useful case study on the potential pros and cons of social media. While the outcome is bad PR, this one is easily fixed with some care and attention to both social media and better product recall communications.

Food companies involved in product recalls must make the extra effort to inform consumers properly. A big dose of transparency would bring many companies a better relationship with consumers and ultimately a better reputation. At the end of the day, it’s not just about the return on investment. It’s also about the return on integrity!

What did you think about Organic’s efforts? Would love to hear your comments and perceptions on companies involved in food recalls.

We’ve got many more Bad PR case studies, Social Media and Crisis PR tips and resources in our PR Library – open 24 x 7. Don’t forget to sign up for our regular newsletter or RSS feed too.

Author:  Jeff Domansky is Editor, The PR Coach

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