It’s been a bad couple of years for bagged salads. Seems like every few months another story hits the news of someone poisoned by eating tainted greens. This time, according to a wrongful death lawsuit, an Ohio woman died because she ate salad processed at a Dole plant that had previously been linked to an outbreak of listeria.
According to a report in the Springfield News-Sun, a 79-year-old Franklin County woman died last February after eating salad processed at Dole’s Springfield plant. The lawsuit alleges the food processor failed to prevent listeria contamination. Dole hasn’t commented on this case as yet, but it has denied responsibility in another lawsuit that claimed a woman fell into a coma after eating listeria-tainted salad.
Listeria is a bacterial infection that can sometimes be found in raw vegetables. Symptoms include gastrointestinal infection that can result in death.American food companies have a hard enough time getting consumers to buy and eat salad, so you can imagine the damage something like this does to their brand development programs.
Rebuilding the Brand
In situations such as these, you can’t take back what went wrong, so you must focus heavily on what you are doing well and right, as well as how safe your food products really are in the grand scheme of things. Sure, the easy headline is “woman dies from salad” but that’s not the only story here. There are many other angles.
For example, does Dole know what went wrong and how to fix it? Was it operational error, human error or simply a terrible coincidence? These questions will likely be worked through in the legal process, but that doesn’t mean Dole can’t be studying the issue on its own and creating a narrative well before the courts do.
That, in fact, is vital to PR recovery in this case. Dole must get out ahead of the news coming from the attorneys. The company must rebuild trust with its consumers not with promises to do better but with concrete examples of how this was a terrible but rare accident and how their food is not only very safe but also very healthy.
They need to push hard on this positive message. Will there be detractors? Yes. Should they engage them? Not at this point. A strong and pervasive positive message is needed here, and it’s needed right now.
David Firester is founder of TRAC Intelligence, an intelligence analysis firm.