Patties Foods recalls berries linked to hep A: Three lessons in crisis management

Patties Foods recalls berries linked to hep A: Three lessons in crisis management

Melbourne-based food manufacturer and distributor Patties Foods has issued a total product recall of its frozen mixed berries after five cases of hepatitis A were linked to the products last week.

One-kilogram bags of the company’s Nanna’s frozen mixed berries were recalled on Saturday, followed by a further recall of its Creative Gourmet mixed berries in 300 gram and 500 gram packets.

Health officials have confirmed three cases of hepatitis A across Victoria and New South Wales linked to the berries, which were sourced from China and Chile, according to the ABC.

The company, which is listed on the ASX, also owns brands Four’N Twenty Pies, Herbert Adams and Chefs Pride. Patties shares were trading at $1.37 at the close of trade Friday, but had dropped to $1.25 at the time of publication.

Patties Foods managing director and chief executive Steven Chaur said in a statement: “While our quality control testing to date has not revealed any concerns with the food safety of either product, further detailed testing is being done and the recall is an important step to ensure public safety and confidence.”

The company said a detailed testing process is continuing with health authorities.

“We have decided that all our frozen Mixed Berries should be recalled until such time as we receive the results of further laboratory tests,” Chaur said.

In the statement, Patties advised consumers not to eat the products, and return packs to the place of purchase for a full cash refund. It also assured customers all other Nanna’s, Creative Gourmet and Patties Foods products remain unaffected by this recall.   

The action calls to light the company’s crisis management procedures, which Chaur defended during an ABC interview last night.

“I know consumers are a little bit frustrated with us at the moment in relation to the speed at which we’re responding, but we are using our best endeavours to make sure we get back to everybody with the right information at the right time,” he told the ABC.

Janey Paton, director of marketing and public relations agency Belles and Whistles, told SmartCompany Patties appears to have done all the right things by getting on the front foot of the crisis.

“It is so important as a brand to protect your reputation, it can only take one hiccup to undo that and create irreparable damage,” says Paton.

Paton outlines three tips for SMEs facing a PR crisis.


1. Have a plan


Paton says businesses need to have a crisis management plan in place before an incident such as product recall actually confronts them.

“Be proactive and don’t wait for something to go wrong, be prepared,” she says.

Plans should include who within the company will be responsible for dealing with public and media requests for information, social media strategies, how you will deal with different stakeholders concerns, and the logistics of product recalls. 


2. Be ready to give information


“The most important thing to do once there is a crisis, is disseminate accurate information, respond to any incorrect information and have in place appropriate mechanisms to keep the public and the media informed on an ongoing basis,” Paton says.

She suggests having just one spokesperson for the company to ensure consistent communication through one channel.

Paton also suggests considering outsourcing your public relations to a specialist crisis management or PR film.

“Small organisations can only do so much and they are being pulled in any number of directions. Professionals in the PR industry are better equipped to handle and respond to media requests,” she says.


3. Rebuild trust quickly


Paton says brands need to act quickly to reassure consumers that they are responding to concerns and will change any faulty procedures or actions as a priority.

“Reassure your customers that all appropriate mechanism have been put in place, so hopefully people will continue to purchase the product,” she says.

Paton suggests communicating via different channels, such as social media or even product packaging itself, that the company has taken steps to ensure the issue has been resolved.

“Tell them, ‘we have these checks in place now or these measures will ensure products are only produced at their very best’. Customers don’t want to feel they can’t trust the brand.”

“It takes years to build up a reputation and only one small incident to do some irrevocable damage,” she adds.


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