Well, it is a fact that when a company that has the reputation of being the largest producer of soft drinks in the world, encounters any mishaps, its likelihood of receiving public sympathy is close to zero. Even trying to offer an apology as a form of remedy to the problem of selling contaminated products to its consumers, may do little to help a brand that has taken more than a century to establish itself. People are so quick in forgetting the good will and the positives of such companies and instead focus more on the negatives. One such company that has had to learn its lesson in a rather tough way is the coca cola company. On 14th of June 1999, the company faced a public backlash the news on the circulation of contaminated Coca-Cola products broke in Belgium. The government to mitigate the whole crisis recalled all the Coca-Cola trademark products from the market and even went ahead to warn the public against consuming any of the companys products that they had bought. Other countries such as the Netherlands, France and Luxembourg followed suit.
The government responded by ordering an immediate recall of the products with the companys trademark from the market. The reasons for the recall according to Doug Ivesters statement resulted from two matters that were described as unrelated. First, there was the case of the consumers complaints about the abnormal taste and odor emanating from the bottles. Secondly, there was the report of the more than one hundred users who were mostly school children that were reported ill after they became ill and even complained of a foul smell on the outer portion of the canned products. An estimated total of fifteen million bottles and cans of the companys products were recalled. The ban on some of the companys products was however lifted in December of the same year. The government at the time ordered the use of fresh materials by the CCC and the CCE and that they should also conduct a thorough cleansing exercise on the plant and take certain steps to enhance the safety measures that were in place at the time.
The Companys Response
The first public response statement by the company took place week after the whole incident unfolded. In his reply, the company CEO offered a public apology assuring the public of high-quality products. He then identified the problems as having originated from the production and distribution levels. The first was the percentage of the off- quality carbon dioxide that affected the taste and odor of some of the bottled drinks. The other problem was pinned on the vending machines which seemed to have intensified the bad smell making the outer portion of the canned drinks produce an offensive smell.
The first blunder that the company in managing the crisis was that of the timing of their communication. It took a whole week for the company offer a public statement addressing the issue of supplying contaminated products to their consumers. The company should have communicated to the public at their early convenience to assure them that the crisis was under their control and also the measure that it hoped to put in place. Even if they did not have anything to say at the moment, they should have just explained that and also given a timeline on when proper findings would be made public. Being quiet only makes the media come up with speculations that would further agitate the public hence it would prove difficult to try and regain their trust in future.
Peppas, S. & Johnson, V. (2003). Crisis management in Belgium: the case of Coca-Cola.Corporate Communications, 8(1), 18-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/13563280310458885
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