Kraft goes on PR offensive and sidesteps taco fallout

CHICAGO: In a year littered by major companies mishandling crises, Kraft Foods remembered how to handle a potential disaster with a minimum of negative media coverage.

CHICAGO: In a year littered by major companies mishandling crises, Kraft Foods remembered how to handle a potential disaster with a minimum of negative media coverage.

CHICAGO: In a year littered by major companies mishandling crises, Kraft Foods remembered how to handle a potential disaster with a minimum of negative media coverage.

The food unit of Philip Morris recently volunteered to recall all its Taco Bell brand taco shells and taco dinner kits when an environmental group pointed out the presence therein of genetically modified corn not approved for human consumption.

Rather than contest the findings by Friends of the Earth (FOE), Kraft did its own tests and, when it discovered the presence of corn known as StarLink voluntarily announced a recall September 22, five days after the first media reports.

Kraft also took a proactive communication stance by calling for specific improvements regulators should make in the sensitive genetically modified food area.

The company's fast action minimized negative coverage, encouraged other food groups to support its proposals and even garnered high marks from FOE.

'Kraft took the right step in pulling the genetically engineered product,' said Larry Bohlen, director of health and environmental programs with FOE. 'I'd say Kraft did a good job of discussing our test results and getting to the bottom of the problem quickly. They maintained two-way communications.'

Kraft's internal PR team first faced the issue September 15 when The Washington Post called for comment on a story it planned to run September 18 about FOE's discovery.

'The temptation at that point would have been to assume that the testing of our product was somehow flawed,' said Michael Mudd, SVP corporate affairs with Kraft. But instead, 'our first reaction was that we'd better take this seriously,' he continued.

Five internal PR people worked on the crisis while the company commissioned tests. By September 19, as the story gained national coverage, Kraft - with the help of Edelman Public Relations - had added a section to its Web site discussing the situation. Edelman had worked on the Kraft site prior to the incident, creating a 'dark' section for any potential crisis.

Kraft's special situation management team, which includes PR, legal, corporate affairs and other departments, decided to be open about the situation and communicate as frequently as the company could, Mudd said.

CEO Betsy Holden became the major spokesperson. 'The situation was of the magnitude that warrants the top person's voice,' Mudd said. Issuing recommendations along with the recall moved attention beyond the incident.

Kraft could have blamed the problem on its taco supplier, but 'we very quickly realized that even though we did not create the product, how we handled it would very quickly determine how the public viewed us,' said Mudd. 'The events of this summer (with other companies in crisis) made that a top of mind realization.'



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in