PR nightmare for Danish food firm

Dairy giant Arla Foods is in urgent talks with a number of PR agencies to help it manage the boycott of Danish goods which has plunged the company into crisis.

The Danish company, which produces Lurpak butter and Three Cows cheese, is being boycotted by supermarkets and consumers in the region after Danish newspaper Jyllends-Posten published a derogatory cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed, one of which included him wearing a bomb-shaped headdress.

Retail outlets across the region have been removing Danish made or associated products from their shelves in protest at the cartoons.

Laurent Ponty, marketing manager for the UAE and Oman at Arla, confirmed the company did not have an existing PR agency and was in the process of speaking with several firms to help manage the crisis. He said: "We do not have a plan yet, but we are seeking the advice of public relations companies."

Ponty added that Arla would focus on how to limit damage to its brand and ensure that the damage to consumer and customer confidence was limited.

"We need to look at what we can we do to limit the damage in the short term and what we can do in the long term, if necessary, to build up the brand positioning," he said. "What worries us is when we do go back on to the shelves how many people will associate us with this. Will we have lost 5% or 30%?

"We have nothing to do with this whatsoever -- we are the victims. We feel sad because 40 years of building relationships in the Middle East are being destroyed in the course of a few days."

Arla employees were being asked to refrain from making on-the-record comments to the media.

"The situation is very hot, the company is on the front pages of the newspapers and we have to make sure that nobody says anything wrong and we have clear rules about who speaks to the media," he said.

"This is a political issue and the solution can only come from the political and religious arena -- it is important that the company does not take a side."

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