Wal-Mart is in the news again, and, once again, the news is not being kind to the massive international retailer. Then again, according to Ronn Torossian this time it’s not Wal-Mart’s fault. According to reports, Kraft Foods is recalling nearly 300 cases of Velveeta cheese sold to Wal-Mart stores across twelve states. Those included in the recall are Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
While the recall is voluntary, and being for a quality control issue that would likely not harm consumers, the issue raises an important consumer PR question for any company who might face such an issue. People read or hear “recall” and they simply stop thinking. They react instinctively, almost violently. Trust is damaged and the absolute worst is expected. They don’t want to hear that, given mass production, recalls are almost unavoidable. And, they certainly don’t want to hear that recalls are actually the system working. Even though that is technically true. Recalls are a necessary, and in most cases, an effective quality control mechanism.
And, even though customers with recalled batches can return them to the store for a full refund or an exchange, they are still leery of the product for some time in the future. Given this consumer tendency, consumer recalls can present some difficult PR necessities.
Brands MUST communicate the recall, and they must do so in a manner that both complies with the law and cares for their customers while mitigating any ill will or public loss of trust. Waiting doesn’t work – just ask General Motors – but being too trigger-happy can also have a detrimental impact. The best strategy tends to be offering enough facts to get the message across while also assuring consumers that steps have already been taken to correct the issue. This needs to be followed by letting consumers know that they can have their affected product replaced at no cost to them. Working the problem in this way, the focus is on a company that has already fixed its mistake and it taking care of its customers, rather than a shoddy producer, or worse, one that puts profits ahead of people.