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    PR experts react to Capri Sun recall: ‘There are a lot of questions that need to be answered’

    On the heels of Kraft Heinz’ decision to recall thousands of cases of Capri Sun juice pouches due to possible contamination, PR and crisis communications experts make suggestions for how the brand can regain consumer trust. 

    Kraft Heinz on Tuesday announced it is recalling some 5,750 cases of its Capri Sun Wild Cherry beverage due to possible contamination. In a public statement, the company said, “The voluntary recall comes after diluted cleaning solution, which is used on food processing equipment, was inadvertently introduced into a production line at one of our factories.”

    The issue was made clear after the company received “several consumer complaints” concerning the taste of the popular juice product.

    Product recalls tend to reflect poorly on the brands in question and, when not handled with tact and care, can create an even larger fire to put out. 

    “While it's hard to know exactly what is going on ‘inside the war room,’ it appears that Kraft is playing this by the book: a voluntary recall out of an abundance of caution, the use of reassuring language and complete transparency,” says Jon Meakin, president of North America at global communications firm Clarity. In previous roles, Meakin himself represented a number of food and beverage clients and had to deal with various recalls, “including a number of contaminations similar to this one,” he says. 

    Others aren’t so reassured by Kraft Heinz’ handling of the issue. For one, says Aaron Kwittken, founder and chairman of marketing and PR agency KWT Global, it’s troubling that consumers identified the issue before the company’s internal quality assurance team did. And the subsequent handling of the misstep also lacks accountability, he argues: “They are downplaying the scope of the impact, but their statements lack contrition and [they seem to be taking no] corrective actions beyond taking the product off the shelves.”

    Kraft Heinz has some explaining to do

    Other experts agree that there’s more work to be done to right the wrong and regain consumer trust. “There are still a lot of questions that need to be answered,” says Karen Freberg, a professor of strategic communications at the University of Louisville. “The company needs to make sure they are clearly stating: one, how they are going to make sure this does not happen again; and two, what steps they will be taking to make sure their equipment is running properly with their products.” 

    Assuaging public concerns about production safety and quality assurance is particularly important, says Freberg, as many consumers will remember infamous recalls like Pepsi’s syringe scare of 1993. 

    For Kraft Heinz, a more proactive approach — paired with transparency and consistency in communications — will be key, per experts. The company would do well to launch a dedicated website with valuable information and updates about the effort.

    While the company clarified that it is working with retailers and distributors to get potentially affected juice pouches off shelves, Freberg says the company could go further by teaming with retailers to ensure consumers who have recently purchased the recalled product are effectively informed and know what steps to take. “Jif does this with stores like Kroger, where there is a note on the grocery receipt with the product recall information,” says Freberg. 

    The time to act is now, as consumers will quickly begin adapting their purchasing decisions. “There are too many drink options out there on the market,” says Kelcey Kintner, senior vice-president at crisis PR firm Red Banyan. “If parents don't trust a brand, they will just switch to an alternative.”

    Rebuidling trust is paramount

    In the long term, a decline in brand trust can prove an even bigger threat to success than the mishandling of production and quality control. “Accidents like this erode consumer trust — and that’s a far more emotional facet of the problem,” says Robert Passikoff, founder and president of consultancy and market research firm Brand Keys. “Capri Sun brand awareness and distribution are pretty ubiquitous. But trust in the brand is where loyalty resides.”

    And trust is already relatively low. In an annual survey measuring consumers’ trust of various sectors, Brand Keys found that only 29% of respondents trusted the food industry “a great deal” — representing an 11% decline from 2018. “Events like this don’t help those numbers — not for the sector and not for the brand. And recalls never, ever help the brand,” says Passikoff. 

    Despite the scandal, experts generally agree that Kraft Heinz and Capri Sun are in a better position than some other brands when it comes to maintaining trust and market share. “Kraft and Capri Sun are well-regarded brands that have built up a high degree of trust over many years,“ says Clarity’s Meakin. “That, combined with the relatively modest scale of this recall, suggest that any reputational damage is likely to be modest and … [probably] temporary.”

    But even Meakin, who believes Kraft Heinz has done a decent job of managing the fallout thus far, notes that “it is never too early to start planning for recovery,” and suggests that perhaps the company considers “a mini relaunch of the Capri Sun brand, or at least this flavor variant.”

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