We can all agree sabotage is bad – and no brand wants to find themselves at the center of a crisis. But interestingly enough, sometimes such situations – when handled well – serve to increase consumer love, instead of creating a loss of appetite.

What to Do When the Unthinkable Happens

This was the case after a recent food contamination crisis in Australia. Queensland police had “reason to suspect” a disgruntled former employee sabotaged strawberries sold by Woolworths by placing sewing needles inside the fruit.

There were three reported incidents initially, but the store took quick action after a Facebook post by a friend of one of the victim’s, which warned others about the issue. The Strathpine Centre Woolworths in Brisbane recalled the punnets of Berry Obsession and Berry Licious strawberries.

This is Crisis Management 101: “protect customers first, brand second and shareholder interest third.” But clearly Woolworths was also following Social Monitoring 101: understand your baseline so spikes in negative sentiment or keywords stand out – and set alerts so you don’t miss such changes.

Of course, because we live in the Social Age, catching things early still isn’t a guarantee things won’t spiral out of control. Even if you do everything right, you might find your brand stuck in a bit of a . . . jam for a while.

Except, when it comes to sabotage, consumers are a bit more understanding – because it’s not the brand’s fault, it’s some horrible person or persons’.

Though there were additional reports of needles in strawberries, affecting several other brands, consumer support is exactly what we’re seeing with strawberries in the aftermath of this devious act.

Love is Stronger than Foul Play

Using NetBase Pro to look at Sentiment Drivers in Australia, we see Emotions are mostly positive at this point:

The few negative Emotions are mostly people annoyed that strawberries are taking precedence over other issues they feel are more important:

Because this wasn’t a mistake on the farm’s or store’s part, there’s a lot of consumer sympathy for the industry:

Though the topic is still part of the Sentiment Attributes we’re seeing several weeks after the fact…

…positive topics are featuring much more prominently.

These are conversations farm brands and distributors should keep a close eye on, to be sure they continue speaking to consumer concerns, but also to thank consumers for their support – because it isn’t a given.

The strawberry incident has luckily not resulted in any serious harm, and keeping consumers safe is a simple matter of cutting berries to ensure there are no needles inside. Strawberry lovers have taken to social in support of their favorite fruit. Not every brand fares so well.

Understanding Love Ahead of an Event Matters

Chipotle, for example, took a bit longer to recover from negative sentiment surrounding back-to-back bouts with E. coli and norovirus.

Chipotle did recover by using social listening tools to stay on top of things, but because this was a situation that seemed avoidable in the eyes of consumers, they had to monitor social sentiment closely to avoid things getting worse.

And sentiment prior to a crisis can impact recovery as well. According to Food & Beverage, “When spinach was recalled in 2006, consumers took over a year to return to previous spending patterns. But after recent recalls of peanut butter, beef and eggs, customers came back in a matter of weeks.”

What explains the difference? The Food & Beverage article offers some telling statistics:

  • Nearly 9 in 10 Americans say they eat eggs
  • Only 5 in 10 Americans say they eat spinach
  • 10 percent of spinach eaters said they were unlikely to eat spinach again after the recall
  • Only 3 percent of egg eaters said they would stop purchasing eggs

In short, people like eggs more than spinach.

Consumer emotions cannot be undervalued – especially when things go wrong.

But even when mistakes are your fault – the way you handle them may tell your audience more about you and your brand than they learn on days when it’s business as usual. They might even love you for it.

Make sure you show them you appreciate it.

Have you seen our social monitoring and sentiment analysis tools in action? Reach out for a demo anytime!



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