The Situation

We received a call for help from a food processor that supplies meat, egg and dairy products to airlines and convenience stores after a USDA investigation revealed an issue with selected meat products. The company CEO was facing an FDA embargo of all of its products with a potential recall due to the potential for serious food contamination.

The Communications Challenge

Our biggest challenge was determining the scope of the recall in the face of incomplete information. The second challenge was time; it was late on a Friday afternoon, the affected food was already en route to customer sites, and the client’s customers were not at their offices to take calls.

Strategy

We worked through the night to investigate similar recalls, then met early Saturday morning with the CEO, legal counsel and top sales managers. The team agreed to do everything possible to find accurate information and to be transparent in resulting communications.

While quality control and inventory experts assessed product lots and ship dates, we drafted scripts to use with customers. We wrote draft releases for both wholesale and consumer recalls, which would be required if the products had indeed made it to consumer shelves. We coached sales representatives and adjusted scripts as feedback came in through the weekend.

Results

As wholesale customers were reached and all returns verified, a new challenge arose. The FDA was not convinced a full consumer recall was not necessary, something the client’s customers certainly wanted to avoid. Armed with product return information and a recap of all communications, we met with the regional FDA representative and legal counsel. In the end, a full recall was avoided. A potentially escalating crisis was stopped within 10 days of the initial embargo. Production resumed, and customer deliveries were back on track.