While no direct link has been established between the company's Nanna's Mixed Frozen Berries and the cases of hepatitis, the incident serves as a cautionary tale to small businesses.
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.”
One-kilogram bags of the company’s were recalled, followed by a further recall of its Creative Gourmet mixed berries in 300 gram and 500 gram packets.
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.
Janey Paton, director of marketing and public relations agency Belles and Whistles, says 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, authories 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 firm.
“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.