It wasn’t a very happy Thanksgiving for HoneyBaked Foods. The cataloger/retailer on Nov. 22 began recalling some 24 tons of hams and sliced and glazed turkeys. By Nov. 25, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) got involved and made the recall mandatory and nationwide.
The recalled meats may contain listeria, a food borne bacteria that can cause listeriosis, which can result in serious and sometimes fatal infections in children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Recalled items were sold at HoneyBaked’s Toledo, OH-based retail location at 6145 Merger Drive, and at three kiosks in Toledo, Maumee, and Woodville, Ohio, from Sept. 5 through Nov. 13. The damage also extends to catalog orders shipped from HoneyBaked’s Holland, OH, production and distribution facility.
HoneyBaked Foods said in a release it is contacting consumers directly via e-mail and phone to notify each recipient of a potentially affected product shipped from the Holland DC. Customers that purchased or received recalled products can receive a full refund; HoneyBaked will make arrangements to pick up any unused portion of the product.
The company consists of four separate legal entities: HoneyBaked Ham of Georgia; HoneyBaked Ham of Ohio; HoneyBaked Ham of California; and HoneyBaked Ham Eastern. Each unit is licensed to sell the same goods. For certain, the recall is a public relations nightmare for the company—especially given the timing. But some PR experts feel that HoneyBaked was a bit ham-handed in the way it handled getting the word out about the recall.
For instance, HoneyBaked Foods does not directly address the recall on its Website. Rather, a small link on left side of its home page labeled “HoneyBaked Foods Toledo Ohio information” takes users to a screen that asks, “Questions about the HoneyBaked Foods of Toledo voluntary recall? To find out if the recall affects you, please select the state you purchased from…”
It may be tempting to downplay bad news, but with a serious product recall, marketers need to act fast and be up front about what’s happening, says Glen Rock, NJ-based public relations consultant Lisa Hahn. An established brand such as HoneyBaked needs to “aggressively protect” its customers. That means being first out with the news and controlling the message to better manage the customer’s potential worries. “You can’t hide the truth,” she says. “It’s unfortunate what happened. But by speaking authoritatively with knowledge, they can lessen the blow and recover.”
For his part, Craig Kurz, a company officer of HoneyBaked Foods and the grandson of founder Harry J. Hoenselaar, explains that each unit of the company operates its catalog and Website separately. So HoneyBaked had to be careful about how much to explain and to whom. “We only wanted to contact those consumers that were affected by this recall. And residually, we didn’t want to alarm the consumers that weren’t.” HoneyBaked Foods also took out three full-page ads on consecutive days–Nov. 23-25–in the Toledo Blade newspaper to alert consumers, he says.