Angry Orchard racial profiling incident highlights importance of workforce training

Bias training is not only the right thing to do, but a reputation management measure, experts say.

Angry Orchard is weathering an alleged racial bias incident at its Walden, New York, brewery. (Photo credit: Getty Images)
Angry Orchard is weathering an alleged racial bias incident at its Walden, New York, brewery. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

An alleged racial profiling incident at an Angry Orchard brewery underpins the importance of workforce training, say communications experts who were asked about the incident by PRWeek.

Companies should provide workforce training not only to correct social ills and because it’s the "right thing to do," but also as a proactive measure to manage their reputations, says Eric Yaverbaum, president of Ericho Communications.

"The worst time to prepare for a crisis is when the water is rising," he says, recalling advice from a mentor. "Unconscious bias does exist in whatever ZIP code you name, whatever you company you pay. [Companies] should proactively teach people because it’s an important issue."

Last weekend, security at Angry Orchard’s Walden, New York, brewery reportedly accused a black man of stealing a $28 t-shirt while he was trying to propose to his girlfriend. The incident went viral after the woman shared her experience on social media. 

"There’s no buying back priceless," Yaverbaum says. "[Angry Orchard] responded swiftly, and they said the right things, but people won’t forget this story."

Hunter Frederick, owner of crisis firm Frederick & Associates, concurs, saying, "That $28 t-shirt is nothing compared to the amount of poor, negative PR exposure that cost the brand." 

"I think racial training is critical," he adds. "It needs to be done by people that experience it, not necessarily someone from corporate."

In the days after the incident, Angry Orchard released what appeared to be its first public statement on the matter to People magazine. The company said that it spoke directly to the guests involved, apologized, offered to "make it right" and acknowledged it "badly mishandled the situation and [its] team overreacted."

Frederick says there could have been an opportunity for Angry Orchard to make its first public statements in a more welcoming atmosphere, such as on a show like Good Morning America. 

Angry Orchard owner the Boston Beer Company later shared statements on Facebook and Twitter, saying it "replaced the security team members working that day and the manager who was on duty."

The brewer added that it is "initiating additional, mandatory training on security awareness and unconscious bias for everyone on staff to prevent something like this from happening in the future."

Michael Clement, managing partner of Strait Insights, critiques Angry Orchard’s response by noting that it didn’t share the same message on its own website. 

"I think it’s important to message across every channel where you have stakeholders," he says. 

Lori Ruggiero, EVP at North 6th Agency, praises the swiftness and comprehensiveness of Angry Orchard’s response, saying it "checks off the day-one and day-two box."

"Anytime there is a delay, you will increase the fury around the situation," she adds. "They’ve already changed the headlines. It’s already about them taking action in a very unfortunate situation."

Most of the experts who spoke with PRWeek about the situation say Angry Orchard should offer a remedy to the couple. Yaverbaum says the cider brand could take a cue from Starbucks, which went through a similar episode last April after a store manager in Philadelphia called 9-1-1 and two black men were arrested. A month later, the coffee giant shut down all store locations for one morning for mandatory racial bias training.

Clement emphasizes the importance of making such training a regular part of a workforce’s regimen. 

"It can’t be a one-and-done kind of approach," he says.

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