As Loyd Grossman's cooking sauces faces a brand crisis of the highest order - with two children having apparently contracted botulism as a result of eating some of its curry sauce, Chris Gilmour, who heads up the crisis division of Beattie Communications and Only Marketing, analyses what the brand must do to survive its current dilemma.
Following news over the weekend that two members of the same Scottish family have been struck down with the potentially fatal illness botulism, you can understand why Premier Foods and Loyd Grossman will be feeling under pressure.
From a PR point of view, the seriousness of this revelation could kill a brand. That's why it's essential for both parties to act quickly and decisively.
Premier Foods identified Loyd Grossman sauces as one of the company’s eight “power brands”, with sales reaching £45m last year. But without smart, honest, open and speedy PR right now, the future looks bleak.
By recalling the entire range of the Korma sauce (some 47,000 jars), Premier Foods is certainly heading in the right direction. Yes, it’s an expensive move, but will prove to be priceless in the long run.
With any luck this will just be a one-off occurrence – but Premier shouldn’t take any risks. It is already in £1.3bn debt and shares in the company fell 10.87% since news of the bug broke.
Insiders (PR people in paper speak!) have insisted this is not a direct reaction. But the value of one of Premier's leading brands is teetering on the edge and will quickly become worthless if this crisis is handled badly and allowed to escalate.
With that in mind, it’s important for Premier Foods to lay a solid distinction between the contaminated batch and the rest of the Loyd Grossman range – but before they do that, they need to be absolutely certain that no other sauces are affected.
If any other sauces are carrying the same bacteria the company needs to act fast. Bosses have to be seen as being efficient and on the ball – recalls can’t be done in dribs and drabs because people will lose confidence not just in the brand, but the company as a whole.
Grossman himself needs to be visible during the whole process – his name is on the brand and he has a responsibility to uphold. His manager has already come forward to say he is devastated by the news but it would be even more effective for Grossman to release a formal statement himself. It highlights not only his concern for the victims, but his dedication and loyalty to the brand.
This is going to cost Premier Foods a fortune so the smart move would be to withdraw all advertising and marketing campaigns for the range with immediate effect. They need to save their budget and plough everything into a fresh re-launch in the New Year.
It may seem extreme but while they are getting so much negative press from the botulism cases, any advertising and marketing campaigns currently on the go will be a massive waste of money because the public will be wary of buying into the range until they are fully satisfied the issue is finished.
If Premier Foods handles this properly in the short-term, everything will be fine in the long run. Just look at Cadbury Schweppes, which was forced to recall one million chocolate bars from supermarket shelves (at a cost of £30m) and suspend its high-profile sponsorship of Coronation Street in 2006, after it was discovered that a leaky tap had contaminated batches of chocolate with a rare strain of salmonella. It left 30 people ill and the company was fined £1m, but thanks to some good crisis management, Cadbury pulled through and is stronger than ever.
Premier Foods needs to do the same. They have one chance to get it right or the entire Loyd Grossman brand and range will be finished.