“First we eat, then we do everything else.”¹
When it comes to crisis, food organisations should follow the exact same logic: “First we prepare for any issue that could come up, then we do everything else.” But how?
The food sector is highly sensitive because of its relationship with one of our most basic human needs and – with other domains such as health – it is more likely to be subject to severe crises. The 2011 E. coli outbreak in Germany, the 2013 European horsemeat scandal or recent confectionary product recalls are only few of the many examples proving this.
Food organisations and products generate low levels of trust, particularly in Europe² and the scrutiny they come under by consumers, retailers and authorities is much greater than in many other sectors.
Consequently, despite the tremendous efforts made by food organisations to ensure quality and safety, how should food organisations prepare and manage their crisis communication when a crisis bubbles up? They do it just like making good food.
The best meals are never improvised. The same goes for crisis communication. Food organisations must prepare by taking the following actions:
- Identify all the types of crises that could hit you
- Define a clear process of responsibilities for each crisis
- Map all stakeholders that could be involved in each crisis
- Prepare your messages, both globally as a company and for each crisis
- Ensure all your channels (internal/external, offline/online) are ready to use and will work perfectly in crisis mode
2. Gather the best ingredients
The quality of the ingredients is key to the recipe. Food organisations must make sure they have the best team in place to handle the crisis:
- Define which type of profile is needed for each type of crisis (legal, marketing, production, etc.)
- Identify the right people who will have to play a role, including spokespersons
- Train each person, regularly
3. Practice and experiment
To put good food on the table, you have to cook often. Food organisations have to follow the same path:
- Test and simulate your processes, regularly
- Adapt your crisis plans to ensure the result will be perfect when it matters the most
4. Once the heat is on: don’t let the dish burn
In the kitchen and in crisis situations, good timing is everything. Food organisations will be judged based on what they knew, when they knew it and on the speed and relevance of their reaction. Avoid the whole kitchen going up in flames:
- Assess the issue
- Be the first to communicate – in a credible way – and do it frequently
- Adapt your approach if needed
- Do not rest until the crisis is definitely over, not when you think it is over
- Once the crisis is definitely behind you, evaluate what worked and what didn’t and adapt your crisis plans
To handle any crisis like a chef, food organisations should prepare, gather the best crisis team, practice and act quickly when an issue comes up. With these utensils in hand, they should be able to avoid leaving a bad taste in the mouth of those who matter most.
¹ M.F.K. Fisher