Crises can have a devastating impact on reputation and this in turn has a devastating effect on balance sheets. In the event that a company is beset by a crisis, the temptation to run and hide is strong but make no mistake, ignoring the issue is not an option.
If you do this, you will be in very great danger of being perceived as orchestrating a cover up and this will cause sometimes fatal damage to a company’s reputation. This is the problem that Blue Bell Creameries has faced.
In April 2015 the Texas based Ice Cream manufacturer issued a voluntary recall of all its products following the discovery that five cases of listeria in Kansas had been linked back to the company’s factory in Oklahoma.
Following the recall FDA Investigators revealed that Blue Bell knew about the bacterial problems at its plants two years previously, but had not taken appropriate action to deal with the issue. This was subsequently confirmed by the company in a statement:
“Several swab tests did show the presence of listeria on non-food surfaces in Blue Bell’s Broken Arrow (Oklahoma) plant in 2013. As is standard procedure for any such positive results, the company would immediately clean the surfaces and swab until the tests were negative. We thought our cleaning process took care of any problems, but in hindsight, it was not adequate, which is why we are currently conducting such a comprehensive re-evaluation of all our operations.”
At this point the crisis moved from an operational issue to a trust issue. The revelation that the company was aware of the bacterial outbreak, and didn’t adequately address the problem could open the company up to accusations of ‘a cover up’.
Four months on the company has announced that it will be re-introducing their products to shelves from August 31st, announcing that the company has done everything to ensure, ‘everything we produce is safe, wholesome and of the highest quality’.
In many ways Blue Bell is lucky that the company still exists to relaunch its products. It remains to be seen whether customers flock back to the brand with the knowledge of what previously occurred. If it had not attempted to cover up the problem, this could have been a very different story.