In times of crisis…

Recent Salmonella outbreaks at Cargill Inc.’s Arkansas meat processing plant has brought back memories from Strategic Planning about crisis management and communication. The two outbreaks—spanning 31 states—affected 103 people, killing one. Cargill is still trying to find the source of the outbreak that affected its Arkansas ground turkey processing plant. Can we say crisis management time?

I think back to the Schwan’s Salmonella case in 1994, and how it effectively handled the crisis, and wonder if maybe Cargill Inc. follows a similar path, even though the companies are different.

1. Recall:

Cargill: Immediately after link was found, all production at the plant was shut down and the ground turkey products distributed from this site were recalled.

Schwan’s: Did not hesitate. Recalled all products.


2. Reactive Action:

Cargill: Apology, full refund, no medical compensation

Schwan’s: Apology, full refund, set up a consumer hotline, provided medical compensation.


3. Use of Key Messages:

*Both: Safety is our number one priority (Sound familiar?).

Cargill: “We go to great lengths to ensure the food we produce is safe and we fully understand that people expect to be able to consume safe food, each serving, every time.”

Schwan’s: “If you were a Schwan’s customer, what would you expect the company to do?”


4. Blame:

Cargill: Placing the blame on consumer’s misuse of the product.“We all need to remember bacteria is everywhere, and we must properly handle and prepare fresh foods wherever they are served,”

Schwan’s: Took full responsibility for the crisis and took appropriate actions.


However, we must keep in mind that Cargill is still looking for cause; therefore it has taken no corrective action yet. I think it is interesting that it has taken the stance of blaming the customers, and not even partially accepting responsibility. But, taking the blame when it is not at fault could potentially cause more problems.

It seems like the Schwan’s crisis plan was more directed towards the consumer, while Cargill’s seemed to favor the company. We will have to wait and see what caused the Salmonella outbreak before fully evaluating Cargill’s crisis communication and strategy.

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