Findus horsemeat crisis: the story so far

With frozen-food company Findus in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after some of its beef lasagne was found to contain 100% horsemeat, we sum up its crisis communications story so far.

With frozen-food company Findus in the headlines for all the wrong reasons after some of its beef lasagne was found to contain 100% horsemeat, we sum up its crisis communications story so far.

The crisis

On Monday, Findus UK withdrew various packs of its beef lasagne from sale, saying it had been notified by its supplier there was a “labeling issue.”

Yesterday, tests confirmed fears that this was related to the horsemeat-in-beef scandal uncovered by the Irish Food Safety Authority in January.

However, the situation facing Findus is daunting as the level of equine DNA found in its lasagne has exceeded the worst example from January: the Tesco hamburger that contained 29% horse DNA.

The media reaction to the test results

The story is on the front page of The Sun, The Daily Telegraph, The Independent, Daily Mail, Daily Mirror, and reported by the Financial Times, Metro, and The Guardian.

Radio 2 breakfast DJ Chris Evans tweeted the following to his million-plus followers: “Good luck to all the Findus PR dept. Findus Lasagne alleged to contain 100% horsemeat! [Former soccer defender] Jaap Stam couldn't defend that one.

The company reaction
So far, the company has taken a low profile while awaiting publication of the test results. It has had support from its retained financial PR agency College Hill, but, in an indication of how seriously it has taken the matter, it has engaged Burson-Marsteller, the crisis specialist that handled last year's Costa Concordia cruise ship disaster.

In addition to providing statements to the media, Findus has posted the following statement on its www.findus.co.uk website.

“At Findus UK, we are committed to our customers and the quality of our products. Following a thorough investigation, Findus UK can confirm that testing of its beef lasagne, produced by a third- party supplier and not by Findus, has revealed some product containing horse meat,” the statement said.

“As a precautionary measure, on Monday we coordinated a full withdrawal of our affected beef lasagne in the following sizes - 320g, 360g, and 500g, from all retailers. All other Findus products have been tested and are not affected. We understand this it is a very sensitive subject for consumers, and we would like to reassure you we have reacted immediately.

The company also directed customers who have purchased affected products to call its customer care line and apologized.

What next?
The situation could yet get worse for the company as the Food Standards Agency has ordered Findus to test the lasagne for the veterinary drug phenylbutazone, or “bute.” Animals treated with phenylbutazone are not allowed to enter the food chain as it may pose a risk to human health.

This article originally appeared on the website of PRWeek UK, the sister publication of PRWeek at Haymarket Media.

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