How Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams Is Thriving After Costly Recall
Did you know July is National Ice Cream Month? I don’t know about you, but I’ll take any excuse to eat ice cream every day for a month. And as any of my co-workers and friends can confirm, there are not many things that I get more excited about than ice cream—especially when it’s done right.
I’m an avid ambassador for artisanal ice cream, which all started when I had my first spoonful of Jeni’s Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio. With a slogan like: “Ice creams built from the ground up with superlative ingredients,” one can expect the company to take a detailed, honest approach to the creamy treat.
Beyond featuring quality, local ingredients such as Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Mo., I have admired the company’s approach to marketing for many years. From sharing the founder’s secret recipe with fans to telling the incredible story of their superlative ingredients, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams has captured the hearts of many foodies through its strong commitment to authencity.
On Thursday, April 23, on the heels of Blue Bell’s listeria scare, Jeni’s Ice Creams announced a voluntary recall of all of their product and closing of all of their scoop shops—citing that one of their batches tested positive for listeria. In the food business, a crisis like this can make or break a company. However, if you have a strong relationship with your customers and have a smart crisis communications plan in place, a company, like Jeni’s Ice Creams, can come out of a recall even stronger.
Below are some strategic actions that Jeni’s took that every company can learn from when it comes to crisis communications.
1. Act swiftly and courageously-
Within the first 12 hours of learning about the listeria, Jeni’s made the courageous decision to pull all of their product off the shelves. They did not wait to see if the contamination was contained to a specific flavor (even though it was); they acted swiftly and out of extreme caution. Anthony Huey, president of Reputation Management Associates, told Columbus Biz Insider that listeria contamination is a big deal. “The fact that they pulled their entire inventory did surprise me a bit, but it was certainly a decision made with great thought,” said Huey. “It shows they are committed and care.” In the end, this commitment to safety lost more than 265 tons of ice cream and cost them approximately $2.5 million dollars.
We have initiated a voluntary recall of all our ice creams, frozen yogurts, sorbets, and ice cream sandwiches. https://t.co/JUOXA4JT0e
— Jeni’s Ice Creams (@jenisicecreams) April 23, 2015
2. Communicate transparently and often-
The company immediately created a microsite (jenis.com/recall) where customers could follow the story as it develops and get more information. That site houses all of their press releases—some written personally from their CEO John Lowe, and the company posted updates often. In addition, they halted all social posts unrelated to the recall and changed all of their social media platform images—including all local scoop shops—to a blank white background to call attention to the announcement. To go above and beyond the call of duty, the company also set up a communications center to field any questions or concerns about the listeria scare. All of these tactics communicate to customers that their safety and wellbeing is the company’s greatest concern during this crisis.
3. Take care of your team-
After making the decision to close all of their shops, Jeni’s showed further commitment to not only their customers’ safety, but also to their 575 employees. Although scoop shops and kitchens were closed, the company continued to pay part-time employees 25% of their regular pay and full time employees 50% of their pay, as well as keeping insurance benefits for all employees. They slashed budgets and spending to avoid layoffs—a move that had a powerful, positive impact on how fans viewed the brand. People respect companies that take care of their own, especially in times of need.
4. Own your mistakes, even if you don’t have to-
On May 14, 2015, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams announced that the listeria product has been eradicated and production had finally resumed. The company reopened scoop shops over Memorial Day weekend, and fans rejoiced. Unfortunately, less than a month later, they announced another stop in production due to listeria in the kitchen. All of the ice cream being served since May 22 was listeria-free. They did not have to admit something had gone wrong for a second time, but they did and their transparent act to own up to the mistake spoke volumes to fans. “It goes back to your values,” Founder Jeni Britton Bauer told Fast Company. “If you abandon those during the worst times, then they’re not yours, really.”
5. Show authentic gratitude to your fans-
About two weeks after the recall announcement, Britton Bauer posted a personal thank you to all of the company’s supporters and partners. At the end of the day, fans stood by and applauded this company for their honesty, transparency and commitment to safety. Customers were rooting for her and her company to win. In fact, many fans stood up for the company when other people left negative comments on the Facebook page. That kind of support only comes from cultivating a positive relationship with your fans long before a crisis ever hits.
When the Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams re-opened their scoop shops, the lines of customers leading up to the doors speak for themselves. The final good news came last week when the company announced that the oh-so-popular milkiest and dark chocolate flavors are officially back in stock.
All in all, this recall only made the company stronger because they built their crisis communication plan from the ground up with superlative ingredients: acting swiftly, owning up to their mistakes, showing committed to their customers’ safety, communicating with extreme transparency and thanking their fans for their support. I’ll leave you with a quote on being creative in a time of crisis from Jeni herself:
“There’s this idea that creativity is about blowing it up and having no boundaries and doing something and not thinking about it. But actually it’s about doing the most you can within the box. Doing what nobody’s ever done within that set of parameters. And that sort of classic creative thinking is what we’ve been doing—finding ways to make our ice cream even better. Not just the same, but even better.”
This post was written by Bethany Bell. As the Assistant Public Relations Manager at deep food marketing group, Bell develops and executes PR and social media strategies for global food brands. Before joining deep in 2013, this Missouri State graduate was the Person in Charge of Getting the Word Out at Askinosie Chocolate, an artisan, bean-to-bar chocolate maker in Springfield, Missouri. Growing up in the coffee industry, Bell is also a strong advocate for supporting local.