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16 January 2013 - 8:02pm | posted by | 5 comments

Tesco: When crisis management is nothing less than horseplay

Tesco beef burgers have been found to contain traces of horsemeatTesco beef burgers have been found to contain traces of horsemeat

The news that Tesco and other major supermarkets have been selling beef burgers containing up to 30% horsemeat has led to headlines, social media jokes, but above all consumer concern. What is it we’ve been feeding our children exactly?

Now the issue is not that horsemeat is bad for you - the media has been keen to point out that the burgers are not causing a public health concern. The issue is one of trust, of transparency and for the food industry, of traceability. Consumer confidence in our competitive retail market is crucial and comes on the back of recent diet advice and the labelling debate. How can supermarkets tell us how much salt or sugar a product contains when they don’t even know what meat is being used?

This crisis leads the public to ask simply how can they be sure that all the meat products, or anything else for that matter, are genuinely what the supermarkets claim them to be? It is reported that of the 31 beef meal products tested, including burgers, cottage pie, curry and lasagne, 21 tested positively for pig DNA. All this puts a different spin on a mixed grill!

So what is the right way for Tesco and its competitors to deal with this crisis?

COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION, COMMUNICATION.

This is no time to batten down the hatches and blame your supplier. Sadly, Lidl at the time of writing has not issued a statement and refuses to speak to the media. Too late. The story has hit and silence is often equated with guilt or something to hide in these situations.

Yes, the burgers supplied are produced by Silvercrest Foods and Dalepak, but the consumer is only interested in knowing that the supermarket understands what it is purchasing and selling. We know our huge supermarkets make large profits and so we expect them to behave ethically and appropriately. We demand it.

Tesco should be applauded for facing the crisis head on and putting up senior directors for media interviews. Tesco’s message has been clear, concise and has offered assurance. Textbook. No hiding, no silence. Yes, the company has made it clear that their supplier was responsible for producing the products but it is taking it on the chin and accepting that they have to ensure what they purchase is what they believe they are marketing and selling to the customers… especially when their name is on the packet.

The sad news of a helicopter crash in central London today has led to this story falling down the news agenda but the damage is already done. Supermarkets have a task ahead of them to regain consumer confidence. They have to use all the communications tools available to rebuild their relationship so that we trust, and believe, in the products they’re selling us.

Elisabeth Lewis-Jones is CEO of Liquid, an integrated communications consultancy with offices in Birmingham, Guernsey, Jersey and London. She was president of the CIPR in 2008, chairman of the PRCA Council in 2011/12 and is recognised as one of the leading crisis PR practitioners in the UK (PR Week).

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Comments

17 Jan 2013 - 10:00
colingilchrist's picture

Hi Liz, As you say communication is key in situations like this - I've been watching the story with interest - I'm just a little surprised not to find a Youtube clip of a joint Tesco boss and a Silvercrest representative doing their best to explain their processes - I suspect that moment has passed and they will do their best to field reactions as they come in and potentially dry up. That is until Channel 4 or Panorama produce an exposé...

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17 Jan 2013 - 10:47
Larner Caleb's picture

Should we really be that shocked? We're a consumerist society - one that's currently getting hammered financially. Aside from the things we buy that we don't need, we constantly demand lower prices. Those lower prices unfortunately come at another cost: quality.

We're happy to buy a spangly outfit from Primark, made by sweatshoppers who should really be reciting their ten times table, yet we go ballistic over the garden fence that it didn't even survive one wash.

It takes time to ensure quality; time to ensure the stitching is durable in a dress; time to ensure there are no bits of small children in our chicken nuggets. If we're not prepared to foot the cost of that quality assurance, no one can afford to make sure it happens.

I'm afraid Tesco have misconstrued the word, 'Value'. Value is the balance between cost and quality. Value isn't the consumer, or the seller getting away with murder. Okay, murder's too strong - but it's not getting away with ripping people off. We need to be prepared to start paying a fair price to ensure the right quality measures to satisfactorily ensure a poodle doesn't pop out of our pepperoni pizza.

I'm not surprised in the least by this story. I think many others won't be too. If Tesco's stock has gone down as a result of this, it might be a good time to buy (or is that too capitalist?) as they will no doubt bounce back - because right now, we've got to a state where we need Tesco more than it needs us. Not a great state to be in.

Great shout, Colin on the PR handling - agree that it may be too late now.

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17 Jan 2013 - 10:51
Larner Caleb's picture

Should we really be that shocked? We're a consumerist society - one that's currently getting hammered financially. Aside from the things we buy that we don't need, we constantly demand lower prices. Those lower prices unfortunately come at another cost: quality.

We're happy to buy a spangly outfit from Primark, made by sweatshoppers who should really be reciting their ten times table, yet we go ballistic over the garden fence that it didn't even survive one wash.

It takes time to ensure quality; time to ensure the stitching is durable in a dress; time to ensure there are no bits of small children in our chicken nuggets. If we're not prepared to foot the cost of that quality assurance, no one can afford to make sure it happens.

I'm afraid Tesco have misconstrued the word, 'Value'. Value is the balance between cost and quality. Value isn't the consumer, or the seller getting away with murder. Okay, murder's too strong - but it's not getting away with ripping suppliers off. We need to be prepared to start paying a fair price to ensure the right quality measures to satisfactorily ensure a poodle doesn't pop out of our pepperoni pizza.

I'm not surprised in the least by this story. I think many others won't be too. If Tesco's stock has gone down as a result of this, it might be a good time to buy (or is that too capitalist?) as they will no doubt bounce back - because right now, we've got to a state where we need Tesco more than it needs us. Not a great state to be in.

Great shout, Colin on the PR handling - agree that it may be too late now.

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17 Jan 2013 - 12:51
EvolutionDezine

Tesco could contact specific purchasing customers via their clubcards and make peace with them!

Finding Pig DNA in Beef burgers is a very significant breach of trust to all but worse for Muslims, many will now believe what they feared from buying from non-halaal suppliers, what else has offending ingredients? They may never go back. So much for supply chain traceability and food standards.

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21 Jan 2013 - 10:40
Spottswoode's picture

Gordon Ramsay is championing horse meat in his restaurants and it's been appearing on farmers markets butchers stands for the past year. The mistake Tesco made was not relabeling it "Finest" and bumping the price up.

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