I would immediately advise him that he convene a meeting of the senior management team to handle this issue, cancelling their holiday and returning them to the business to announce an immediate product recall.
The recall would be supported by an explanatory statement to staff, the wholesale/retail trade and to consumers, reinforcing:
No proven link between the bars and any illness.
That this recall has been made to maintain consumer confidence in the product and company while appropriate additional checks and tests are made.
The product’s popularity within the UK and overseas (in terms of sales), stressing its compliance with UK and US food and drug rules and regulations – it presumably would not have been given an export licence without the latter.
Information about the history of the company and its strong safety track record in the food product and confectionery markets.
The crisis management team would be responsible for every aspect of the situation and would operate continually, meeting as required. It should consider:
Setting up a media centre for all briefings to help position the client as the authoritative spokesman on all aspects of this situation.
Stopping all other marketing activities (imagine a model on a 48-sheet that looked like one of the kids in intensive care – scary). This may involve the use of issue-specific advertising to provide further information to stakeholders.
Appoint a fulfilment house to allow consumers to return any product that they have bought, issuing refunds or other subsequent information or offers, linked to the product website to providing updates about the situation.
Clearly, the communications strategy would evolve as the situation eases or worsens based on the facts of the matter.
The client should conduct a full internal investigation, backed up by testing from an independent party. This would determine vital issues such as, “is there contamination or not?” If so, is it occurring within the plant or elsewhere in the distribution chain? Is any contamination due to negligence on the part of the company or is it sabotage?