How Blue Bell is trying to win back customers as it returns to stores

The ice cream company pulled its products from shelves in April due to listeria concerns.

How Blue Bell is trying to win back customers as it returns to stores

BRENHAM, TX: Blue Bell Creameries is waging a comprehensive PR campaign to communicate its food-safety initiatives as its ice cream products return to stores more than four months after a voluntary recall due to listeria concerns.

The company decided to pull its ice cream from shelves in April after the bacteria was found in several Blue Bell facilities. Three of the 10 people who fell ill from listeria linked with contaminated ice cream died.

The products are slated to return to the market on August 31. Blue Bell spotlighted the official date on the homepage of its corporate website on Monday, along with links to information on return plans, its commitment to consumers, and an FAQ page.

Blue Bell VP of sales and marketing Ricky Dickson explained in a statement that the company has been "working to make our facilities even better, and to ensure that everything we produce is safe, wholesome, and of the highest quality for you to enjoy" over the past several months.

Dickson also appeared in a video on Monday discussing the company’s plans. Facebook and Twitter users largely responded to it with positive and supportive comments.

We have some very exciting news to share!

Posted by Blue Bell Ice Cream on Monday, August 17, 2015

"Through this long process, our consumers and retail partners have been so supportive and patient," Joe Robertson, Blue Bell’s advertising and PR manager, told PRWeek.

He added that the company is "trying to be as transparent as possible" through its return to stores.

Burson-Marsteller, which Blue Bell hired in April for recall comms support, is helping the company communicate about its reemergence. A representative from the firm couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

However, Blue Bell has ended its work with kglobal, which was also brought on to help with the recall crisis, according to Robertson.

 "Now that Blue Bell is out of the worst part of its crisis, the company is concentrating on rebuilding itself with marketing communications," Gene Grabowski, a partner at kglobal, told PRWeek via email. "The time for crisis communications is past."

Earlier this month, food industry analyst Phil Lempert told The New York Times that the company would have to go beyond just returning to stores to win back customers.

"You can’t just show up on the shelves and expect all of your customers to come back," he said.

The company’s comms materials about the return walk consumers through Blue Bell’s actions since the recall, how it has changed its processes, and how it will operate.

It has updated its procedures and employee training and adopted the same overall philosophy at all of its facilities to include enhanced manufacturing and increased focus on sanitation and cleaning.

The company has also retained an independent microbiology expert for an ongoing evaluation of its processes and facilities and implemented a "test and hold" procedure, through which it can assess production runs and hold products until results are received.

Blue Bell has also entered into voluntary agreements with the Alabama Department of Public Health, the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry, and the Texas Department of State Health Services as part of its return to stores.

Since recalling its products, Blue Bell has kept consumers apprised of updates via its social media accounts. For instance, the company told the public when it laid off 1,400 staffers, or 37% of its workforce, in May. The following month, it posted a tweet quelling rumors of an early return to market.

Blue Bell also published a statement last month about a multimillion-dollar investment it received from Sid Bass to aid its return to market.

The company posted a tweet last week with a video of its trucks back on the road and filled with ice cream, hinting at this week’s announcement.

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