As any food manufacturer is aware, a product recall has the potential to put not just your brand but the entire future of your company on the line.
The approach taken and the way customers are managed during the recall process can have a huge impact on long-term customer satisfaction and their loyalty to the brand.
With the stakes so high, it’s imperative that whether you are handling the recall internally, or via a specialist third-party, you have to be on top of the game.
Know the rules
Firstly, it’s important to point out that food recalls are not on the rise.
In fact, there was a 1.4% decrease from 2015 to 2016, according to the Stericycle Recall Index.
Regulations are in place that, in the UK, are stringently applied by the Food Standards Agency, which governs the production, processing, distribution, retail, packaging and labelling of food stuffs.
Similar agencies and departments exist in all European countries and they have the same regulations; however, in countries outside Europe, regulations, codes of practice and guidance differ. This can lead to different standards being applied in the country of origin, and issues emerge in the supply chain that can lead to product recalls.
Manufacturers importing foodstuffs from overseas must have a clear understanding of the regulations and food safety guidance in that country that may impact on their own production processes; not just restrict themselves to the regulations governing their own country.
Slow the flow
The top two reasons behind food recalls in Europe are bacterial contamination and aflatoxins, and the vast majority of the foods affected are removed before they come close to reaching a consumer.
Manufacturers assess the risks on a constant basis, not just to the customer but to their own company reputation, and if there is any question of not meeting with legislation, they are likely to stop the process of marketing that product. In most cases, the threat of a PR disaster far outweighs the cost or disruption caused by a recall.
Jump into action
Taking action at an early stage, however, can help to make a food recall significantly easier to manage.
Any delay and there is the potential to expose manufacturers and retailers to possible legal action and brand damage. Manufacturers have varying levels of control over their channels to market.
Those who manufacture food and sell it through their own retail outlets have the simplest recall process to implement and can do this easily and using their own internal resources.
Things become more complex, however, when a manufacturer uses a distributor or wholesaler to move their products into the retail channel.
In this situation, it’s helpful to outline a product retrieval plan that can inform every stage in the supply chain. The primary objective must be to retrieve all affected products from retail outlets and from the warehouse.
In addition, to prevent non-affected products from the same manufacturer also being wiped from shelves, working closely with retailers, or implementing a field team that can visit distributors and retailers in person, will help to ensure the focus is only on the affected product.
The highest quality standards must be maintained and every stage of the process documented, from transporting and storing products with a secure chain of command, to handling subsequent product testing or product recalls in a regulatory compliant manner.
Use a loudhailer
Clear communication is vital.
A recall requires even more careful handling once the product is in the hands of the consumer.
From a brand protection perspective, it takes no time for one customer’s complaint to spread, particularly given the power of social media and the ability for messages to go viral in today’s global marketplace.
So, communication has got to be transmitted loud and clear – stop eating or using the product, return it, or throw it away.
Food products that are normally stored for some time, such as tinned or packaged goods for example, will be easier to locate and retrieve, although a recall will still be necessary.
However, with fresh foods, which are more quickly consumed and therefore hard to locate and retrieve, manufacturers are forced to advertise nationally to let people know there is a recall, which is not only expensive but has limited response.
With no direct connection from the manufacturer to the consumer, ironically, it is the power of the brand that can help to pass the message on. People are more likely to connect with a brand online or through social media than they are to see a poster in a shop or an advert in a newspaper and take action.
Negotiating the hazards
In the bakery and snacks sector, there will always be a risk that a recall will be necessary.
Prevention, of course, is essential, and manufacturers can lower the risk of contamination or toxins entering their processes by ensuring their own quality controls are of the highest standards.
It is understandable that manufacturers produce foodstuffs to sell not to retrieve, but it is also crucial that they have a recall procedure in place, and that if they don’t have the internal resources to manage that procedure, they have a specialist company in place to help them.
This requires a change in mindset, and decisions being made at the highest level as to who will take responsibility if a product retrieval has to happen.
It may be that an insurance policy helps to cover the risk, or that the marketing department has a crisis management plan that can be implemented if necessary.
Either way, it is about preparation and it will serve all food manufacturers well if they know in advance how they are placed to protect not just themselves and their reputation, but their supply chain, their retail partners and ultimately their customers. Even with the most stringent safety and hygiene standards in place, mistakes can happen.