It was Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol in 1982, and now, Blue Bell’s ice cream.
On April 21, 2015, Blue Bell Creameries issued a voluntary recall after samples tested positive for listeria, an infectious bacteria carried by animals like the cows that make the milk for that beloved, creamy goodness.
As a college student and public relations fanatic, I consider each scenario with a PR mindset...especially the mistakes. The ‘Hmm, how do I explain this grade to my parents?’ or the ‘What would be a good way to explain this month’s spending?’ are certainly more casual examples, but Blue Bell didn’t have those options.
Its products were the crème de la crème...pun intended. So how did Blue Bell explain this mistake? How could it make up for the three deaths attributed to listeria?
It couldn’t. So, Blue Bell took a page from the lessons learned as kids—honesty is the best policy. And sometimes, that is simply the only option.
Tylenol did it in 1982 when seven people died because the product was laced with potassium cyanide. Families across the country panicked, dumping their medicine cabinets in the garbage. So how did Johnson & Johnson recover from this? It put the customers first, finding its place again in America’s hearts and their medicine cabinets.
Blue Bell was smart to follow Tylenol’s lead. As news broke of the listeria, Blue Bell shut down its Oklahoma plant and pulled all of its products from suppliers’ shelves. The Texas-based creamery tested store samples, individual pieces of equipment and hired microbiologists to study the environments. The company apologized profusely to its loyal fans. Sales suffered and people lost their jobs, but it had to do what was safe for customers and put them first.
After five painful and costly months, Blue Bell is starting production back slowly in some Texas and Alabama stores, beginning with vanilla. Pending positive results, other flavors and stores will follow.
After its honest and aggressive recovery efforts, customers are gaining back trust for their filling best friend. Once again, Blue Bell is finding its way back into our hearts, our freezers and our bellies.
-by Alex Christopher, PRSSA General Member
All blogs are written by general members of UAPRSSA and Capstone Agency.