BRENHAM, TX: Blue Bell Creameries has brought on kglobal to aid with crisis comms after the company voluntarily pulled all of its ice-cream products due to listeria concerns.
Blue Bell’s massive move follows weeks of gradual recalls at the company, along with five reported cases of listeria in Kansas and three in Texas. The bacteria can cause harmful infections in people with weak immune systems.
Kglobal was contracted on March 23 during an earlier recall and continues to assist the company with this matter, confirmed Gene Grabowski, a partner at the firm.
Blue Bell, which has 62 distribution centers across 23 states, works with eight PR firms in the US, said Joe Robertson, advertising and PR manager at the company. It was not immediately clear if PR firms other than kglobal were also working with the company on the recall crisis.
The company’s CEO and president Paul Kruse admitted in a statement that Blue Bell’s initial assumption that the listeria was isolated to one machine in one room was "wrong," after an additional half gallon of contaminated ice cream was found in its Brenham facility on Monday.
In addition, Blue Bell released a video of Kruse vowing to correct the company’s mistakes.
"[Ice cream] should never be a cause for concern and for that we do apologize and we are going to get it right," he said in the video, which was released Monday evening.
To highlight Blue Bell’s efforts to "make things right," the company is implementing a transparent and accessible media relations strategy in association with the recall, Robertson said.
Last night, Blue Bell changed its website’s homepage, placing two large links at the forefront: one leading to the most recent press release about widening the recall, and the other directing visitors to the video statement from Kruse.
A message from our CEO and President.Posted by Blue Bell Ice Cream on Monday, April 20, 2015
The company also published its press release online Monday evening and posted the video to Blue Bell’s Facebook page.
"We are doing everything possible to get to the bottom of this issue and we want to get our message out that we are committed to doing the right thing," said Robertson. "Even though this is a huge undertaking, we know this is the right thing to do."
Standing by its word, Blue Bell is removing all products from the market and implementing a "test and hold" program, which ensures that all products released will be tested first and held for release until after tests show they are safe.
Blue Bell is also implementing additional safety procedures by expanding its system of daily cleaning and sanitizing of equipment; growing its system of swabbing and testing its plant environment by 800% to include more surfaces; sending samples daily to a leading microbiology laboratory for testing; and providing additional employee training.
Aside from consumers, the company is communicating with retail partners, such as Wal-Mart and Kroger, which are also fielding questions from reporters about the recall.
"We have people on the ground in Blue Bell retail partners’ stores, providing them with support and helping them with any questions they might have," said Robertson.
On Tuesday, Kruse will likely release an internal video message to staffers, according to Robertson.
"His internal message will be about hanging in there with us," Robertson explained. "He will want them to know that our plan right now is to work hard, make no excuses, earn our way back [into consumers’ trust], and be stronger and better."
At this point, Blue Bell cannot say with certainty how listeria was introduced to its facilities, Kruse said in a statement. The company continues to work with food safety microbiologists to inspect its plants and systems to eliminate this problem.
State and local health officials, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Food and Drug Administration are working closely on this investigation and have set up information pages about the recall on their websites. They are also tweeting about it.
Check your freezer! Blue Bell Creameries recalls all Blue Bell brand products made at all of its plants. http://t.co/o60omxPPjg— CDC (@CDCgov) April 21, 2015
Blue Bell isn’t the only one being affected by Listeria. In the past month, concerns about the bacteria have led companies such as Sabra Dipping to recall 30,000 cases of its classic hummus, and vegetarian frozen-food Amy’s Kitchen to pull more than 70,000 packages of food.