Blue Bell Ice Cream

Lessons Learned from Blue Bell’s Ice Cream Recall

The moment news broke about the recent listeria outbreak that caused Blue Bell to voluntarily recall all of its products from store shelves, the public’s natural need was for information about the situation—who was in charge, what was being done and the severity of the threat. The company’s comprehensive and proactive action in the face of the biggest crisis of its 108-year history is a model for how to manage crisis communications. Let’s take a look at some of the crisis communication tactics practiced by Blue Bell to find ways that you can implement similar strategies for your organization.

This Listeria Threat Wasn’t the First for Blue Bell
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are approximately 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths from listeriosis bacteria in the U.S. each year which makes it one of the deadliest food borne pathogens especially among the young, elderly and those with comprised immune systems. This incident wasn’t the first time Blue Blue had dealt with the bacteria, but previous responses resulted in only isolated recalls.

Take Control of the Message
From the onset of the crisis, Blue Bell proactively managed the conversation about the outbreak. Once Blue Bell leadership determined they would do a total recall, CEO Paul Kruse released a video message that took control of the message to avert complications that are possible with frenzied media coverage. This allowed Kruse to deliver a concise and heartfelt communication that was aligned with the company’s brand.

Inform the Public about What You Know, When You Know It
Shortly after news broke of the recall, Blue Bell’s website was updated with the specifics of how the company planned to address the listeria crisis and steps they would take to prevent a similar outbreak in the future. Preliminary evidence in social media channels showed significant community support for the company.

Employee Treatment Crucial
Although Blue Bell will suffer financially from this recall, so far the company stands firm with its commitment to avoid layoffs. Since the company employs nearly 4,000 people, this commitment to the staff in the face of adversity will likely bode well for the company’s community relations efforts, particularly in the communities where those employees live. This loyalty increases the odds of bouncing back quickly once the production lines begin again. This investment in employees helps to ensure those employees will advocate for the company.

How to Use This Information
When it was determined they were going to do a total recall, Blue Bell immediately sought the expertise of a crisis communications firm to guide the messaging. When navigating in unfamiliar territory such as shopping for an emergency notification system, the counsel of industry experts cannot be taken for granted. We would be happy to help you figure out what tools and systems your organization should have in place for business continuity. Please give us a call at 877-833-7763 or contact us online today.

What do you think of how Blue Bell handled the listeria outbreak?