How Tesco response to "bad squash" crisis diluted firm's PR
For a company marooned in financial woes, this week’s storm over a “vile tasting” beverage was the last thing it needed. But it could have dealt with the complaints more effectively
This week, one high-profile brand has faced two, particularly negative sets of headlines, amid what is already a prolonged reputational crisis.
On Wednesday, Tesco announced it was going to close 43 unprofitable stores, with a potential loss of 2,000 jobs. In the words of CEO Dave Lewis, “The decision to close the stores has been exceptionally difficult to take. I recognise it will affect many hard working colleagues, our customers and local communities.” In addition to the closures, Tesco is also drastically trimming its head office and shelving plans for 49 developments. All those moves are part of an effort to turn the company’s fortunes around, after its £263m “profit misstatement” last year.
But that wasn’t the only issue the supermarket had to deal with this week. The same day, media reports swirled around customer complaints about a Tesco brand of apple and blackcurrant squash that, according to one Twitter user, “Tastes and smells vile”. Mother Claire Davies was also quoted saying: “Had this [drink] the other day, the smell was horrendous but drank it anyway … Since then both my daughter and partner have had bad bellies. A bit worried now as nobody knows what’s wrong with them.”
The complaints kept rolling in – and a Tesco spokesperson then announced: “We have withdrawn the product from sale. Only products bought since the New Year may be affected, they will have a best before date of October 2015”. The company claimed that a non-standard flavour additive had been accidentally mixed with the queried consignment, but said that it “poses no food safety risk”. Customers remained unhappy about the response, with many pointing out that the squash wasn’t even placed on the recall page of the Tesco website.
Tesco’s PR team will undoubtedly be facing a difficult time at the moment, with the financial issues from last year lingering and making the firm more vulnerable to negative press. However, that ought to make the team realise that it needs to act much more quickly and efficiently when it comes to tackling any new crises – otherwise there’s a real danger that it will only encourage the negative press.
Will Edwards is managing director of media training consultancy Bluewood Training.