The Unhappy Meal: Santa Clara looks to ban unhealthy children’s meals with toys

April 28, 2010

An issues that been appearing off and on in the news for years has been childhood obesity in the U.S.  Kids in the U.S. eat unhealthy foods and generally weigh too much resulting in health problems.  The argument is that fast food restaurants target children with the marketing thereby encouraging them to eat unhealthy food.  Fast food restaurants spent over $1.6 billion in 2006 to target children.  One ploy is to put toys in the meals designed for children.  Children want the toys, children nag their parents, parents buy the meals, children eat unhealthy meal, and children become unhealthy.  We can argue with the links in this chain of logic but it is the fundamental argument in this case.  The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors considered a proposal that “the proposal would forbid the inclusion of a toy in any restaurant meal that has more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high amounts of sugar or fat. In the case of McDonald’s, the limits would include all of the chain’s Happy Meals — even those that include apple sticks instead of French fries” (,0,6290206.story).

The idea is that the proposal would pressure fast food restaurants into creating more nutritious meal options for children.  A key concern is all the sodium, sugar, and fat that can be found in existing children’s meals.  Here is summary of the proposal from its creator:

“Ken Yeager, the Santa Clara County supervisor who is behind the effort, says the toys in kids’ meals are contributing to America’s obesity epidemic by encouraging children to eat unhealthful, fattening foods.  ‘People ask why I want to take toys out of the hands of children,’ said Yeager, who is president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors. “But we now know that 70% of the kids that are overweight or obese will be overweight or obese as adults. Why would we want to burden anybody with a lifetime of chronic illness?’” (,0,6290206.story).

Every issue has at least two sides.  So who is arguing for unhealthy food that will children obese?  The answer is the California Restaurant Association (CRA) who see the issue differently.  Here is how their interpretation of the issue:

“’Ultimately, parents decide what their children eat and whether a meal includes a toy or not – that is the role of a parent,’ the CRA’s President + CEO Jot Condie said. ‘Based on our survey of the county’s residents, parents prefer to continue making those decisions, as opposed to following Supervisor Yeager’s proposal that would take that choice away. Saving us from our kids is overreaching. Most parents can resist their children’s pressure to get a toy. The county government does not need to serve as the parent of the parents.’

Most restaurants offer healthy options, such as fruit, sandwiches, milk, juice and water with kids’ meals. The variety of offerings continues to grow, but ultimately consumers want a choice in what items they can select for a kids’ meal when dining at a restaurant. Seventy-three percent of Santa Clara County residents agree that they should have the option of purchasing a meal at a restaurant that includes a toy or a gift.

“The restaurant industry works with policymakers every day to craft serious, comprehensive solutions to public health issues, including childhood obesity,” Condie said (

The CRA took their message to the people of Santa Clara through newspaper advertisements.  The CRA also conducted a poll and found that 80% of residents felt lawmakers should not be involved with this issue.  The poll had a sampling error no more than 4.1 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.  However, we do not know the exact wording of the question in the survey used for the poll ( 

While in isolation the toy ban does not seem like much of an issue.  It is a limited proposal covering a very small geographic area.  However, the larger issue of childhood obesity in the U.S. is a serious concern.  Moreover, the childhood obesity issue is repeatedly being linked to fast food restaurants so there is reason for the restaurant industry to be concerned.

Questions to Consider

  1.  How viable is the CSR response that food choice is the responsibility of parents?
  2. How do the marketing actions of restaurants undercut parental decision making about what their children eat?
  3. What are the ethical considerations of marketing to children?  Should restaurants adopt a code governing marketing to children that covers the healthiness of the food being promoted?
  4. Which side of the issue would you support and why?
  5. How was each side using public relations in this issue management effort?
  6. What is the benefit of the CRA managing the issue rather than individual fast food restaurants?
  7. How might the issue of childhood obesity be a serious threat to the reputations and sales of fast food restaurants?

Toyota Fights Back: In this the Corporate Rope-a-Dope

March 8, 2010

Toyota has been like a boxer on the ropes taking punch after punch from the media, Congress, consumers, and other critics.  Mohammad Ali used a strategy called the rope-a-dope.  Ali would lean against the rope taking punches in order to tire his opponent out and counterattack when given the chance.  In more general use, rope-a-dope is when an entity places itself in what appears to be a losing position in an attempt to become the winner.  With the march 8, 2010 counterattack, perhaps Toyota is making its move to “win” in this crisis.  It is still far too early to tell.  However, the counterattack is far cry from the apologies and verbal punches Toyota has been absorbing the past few months. 

As a quick recap, Toyota has had a series of recalls related to sudden acceleration in vehicles.  The sudden acceleration is serious having caused a number of deaths as cars would speed up often exceeding 100 mph.  Toyota’s recall have addressed floor mats and then the gas pedal itself.  Toyota service departments have often been open 24 hours to handle the repair/replacement of the gas pedals.  The televisions airwaves are filled with Toyota advertisements talking about the repair and testimonials from customers saying how they still love their Toyota vehicles. 

Recently Toyota has been taking punches from Congress that have been amplified by the traditional and online media.  The key charge is that Toyota has not really found that problem.  The argument is that the problem is really in the electronics, not the mechanical system as Toyota says.  This is pivotal distinction.  If Toyota has not solved the problem, its customers are still at risk from its flawed product.  At best, Toyota looks incompetent as it cannot find the problem,  At worst, Toyota looks like it is ignoring a safety problem by pretending the pedal design is at fault when they know it is the electronics.

A key piece of evidence being used against Toyota is an “experiment” conducted by David W. Gilbert, an automotive technology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. 

“Gilbert told a congressional hearing Feb. 23 that he recreated sudden acceleration in a Toyota Tundra by short-circuiting the electronics behind the gas pedal — without triggering any trouble codes in the truck’s computer.

The trouble codes send the car’s computer into a fail-safe mode that allows the brake to override the gas. Gilbert called his findings a “startling discovery.”

House lawmakers seized on the testimony as evidence Toyota engineers missed a potential problem with the electronics that could have caused the unwanted acceleration.”;_ylt=AhF0kk4JAJTINoJOzqYMv5cEq594;_ylu=X3oDMTNocnYwbTBnBGFzc2V0A2FwLzIwMTAwMzA4L3VzX3RveW90YV9yZWNhbGxfZWxlY3Ryb25pY3MEY2NvZGUDbW9zdHBvcHVsYXIEY3BvcwM2BHBvcwM2BHNlYwN5bl90b3Bfc3RvcmllcwRzbGsDdG95b3RhZGlzcHV0

Toyota could no long rest against the ropes and is now fighting back.  The cornerstone of the counterattack is testimony from Stanford University professor Chris Gerdes, director of Stanford University’s Center for Automotive Research, and a consulting firm, Exponent Inc.  For most people, Stanford would seem more credible that Southern Illinois.  However, the Stanford Center for Automotive Research and its engineering school receive money from Toyota.  Gerdes maintains his analysis is independent but there are reasons for doubt to creep in.  Experts seem to agree that the conditions found in Gilbert’s “experiment” are extremely unlikely to occur in the real world. 

The stakes are high.  In addition to reputation and sales loss, Toyota is facing intensified Congressional scrutiny over the electronics concern.  This includes accusations that Toyota has ignored the safety issue since 2006.  Toyota has hired a former U.S. Secretary of Transportation to head an internal examination of its quality and safety issues.  A third-party expert is a way add credibility to such investigations.  Here part of the announcement:

“Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMA) announced today that former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater will lead an independent North American Quality Advisory Panel to advise the company’s North American affiliates on quality and safety issues.

The panel will work closely with Toyota’s North American leadership team, and will have direct access to Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda.

‘I am pleased that Secretary Slater has accepted our invitation to lead the distinguished group of safety and quality experts who will help Toyota to improve its quality controls in North America,’ said Yoshi Inaba, President and Chief Operating Officer of TMA. ‘We are committed to more transparency regarding our safety and quality controls, and the independent advisors will have our full cooperation and access to any information they believe they need.’

Questions to Consider

  1.  Is it appropriate for Toyota to try to disprove the claims of an electronics problem?  Why or why not?
  2. What does Toyota have to gain with a counterattack?
  3. What does Toyota have to lose with a counterattack?
  4. Can a corporate rope-a-dope be an effective crisis response?  Why or why not?
  5. What ethical issues arise when a corporation uses a counterattack?
  6. What are the ethical issues for Toyota and Stanford in the funding connection?

Taliban using Public Relations in Afghanistan: Worth a Look

January 22, 2010

Critics of Edward Bernays like to note that Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda chief, used the writings of Bernays to help build the Third Reich.  The focus is on the knowledge that Goebbels had a copy of Crystallizing Public Opinion.  Keep in mind it was not an autographed copy nor did Bernays ever consult with Goebbels.  Bernays was Jewish and was dismayed his work was used by Nazi’s. However, the story illustrates that fact that public relations theory, once written, can be used by anyone.  Of course the same holds true for medicine or any other form of knowledge.  Yet when unsavory groups use public relations, the industry as a whole seems to get tainted.

The New York Times reported in late January of 2010 on a public relations operation by the Taliban in Afghanistan.  The focus was on how the Taliban were trying to build greater public support by softening its reputation.  The Taliban were using a new code of conduct that showed their gentler side.  Here are some of the changes:

There is some evidence that the new code was being used but many of the Taliban were still not abiding by these more civil rule of engagement.  However, the Taliban have a history of cruelty, drug trafficking, and extreme violence that served to create their current negative reputation.

So why the need to change a reputation. Analysts claim that the Taliban are trying to win support at home and abroad with this new reputation.  If the war is a long term affair, the Taliban will need additional support for their cause.  It is hard to win support either at home or abroad when your reputation is for violence and cruelty.   The Taliban are responsible for the vast majority of civilian deaths in Afghanistan so the old reputation is well earned.  The public relations effort is in part public diplomacy aimed at an external audience as well as an internal effort.

NATO feels they are at a public relations disadvantage when competing with the Taliban.  “The Taliban can shape the narrative about attacks sometimes before NATO public affairs even puts out a statement. Unlike the NATO press machine, the Taliban are willing to give details, and while some are patently exaggerated or wrong, others have just enough elements of truth that they cannot be entirely ignored” (  NATO has a time lag and a concern for accuracy that does not limit Taliban public relations.  It should be noted that being close to the truth is an effective way to spread rumors.  Good rumors (ones that spread) have some element in them that makes them seem believable.  Truth and accuracy should matter but being just believable enough can result in a message spreading and appearing to be true.

The Taliban are using a wide variety of tactics and channels in their public relations operation.  Their action have used word-of-mouth, cellphones, and the Internet, all of which are staples of viral campaigns.  Not long ago the Taliban denounced the Internet as evil but now the Taliban are posting their own videos to the Internet.  The same viral techniques used to promote products are being used to promote the Taliban’s new reputation.  It should be noted that the Taliban efforts are not the simple image projection of past public diplomacy efforts.  Oppressive regimes often hire public relations firms to win them positive media coverage without ever changing policies.  The Taliban have at least tried to make some policy changes that serve as a basis for the reputation management effort.  If civilian casualties do decrease from these changes, that is positive change.  Still there are many other reasons to dislike the Taliban, their methods, and their ideas.

Public relations has a body of knowledge that anyone can draw upon for their use.  There is no high council who decides who can and cannot use public relations.  Even though it may not be great for the field, the Taliban engaging in public relations is a reality. At least no U.S. public relations firm has agreed to represent them.  We could just claim the Taliban are engaged in propaganda not public relations.  However, that would be disingenuous bordering on ethical.  Some of the actions legitimately qualify as public relations while some are bastardizations of public relations that should be condemned (fabricating stories for instance).  One could note that the Taliban practice medicine as well as public relations.  Does that make medicine “bad?”  A profession cannot control who uses their knowledge base.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Why do the Taliban’s actions qualify as public relations?  Public diplomacy?
  2. From the article, what ethical concerns emerge from the Taliban public relations efforts?
  3. Why might practitioners be concerned about the Taliban practicing public relations?
  4. Is it fair to compare the Taliban practicing medicine to practicing public relations?  Why or why not?
  5. Why is it important that the new code and changed policies to be linked to the Taliban reputation management effort?
  6. What advice could you give NATO for improving their effort to combat Taliban public relations?

Social Irresponsibility: H & M and Wal-mart mutilate unsold clothes

January 8, 2010

In times when people are in need, corporate waste becomes an even bigger example of corporate irresponsibility.  In January of 2010, the story broke that clothier H&M (a Swedish company) and Wal-Mart stores in New York City were mutilating unsold clothes then throwing them away.  The clothes were mutilated to prevent someone from finding the trash and reselling the items.  It also prevent those in need from receiving donations.  The discovery was made by graduate student Cynthia Magnus who was looking through the trash from an H&M and a nearby Wal-Mart on 35th street in New York City near Herald Square.  The bags were in plain site as she walked by on her way to a subway stop.  Here are the initial responses:

“A Wal-Mart spokeswoman, Melissa Hill, said the company normally donates all its unworn goods to charities, and would have to investigate why the items found on 35th Street were discarded.”

“This week, a manager in the H & M store on 34th Street said inquiries about its disposal practices had to be made to its United States headquarters. However, various officials did not respond to 10 inquiries made Tuesday by phone and e-mail.”

This post will focus on H&M because they make a point in their corporate social responsibility (CSR) writings about how they donate unused clothes to charity.  Oddly, just around the corner from the new York City store is a collection point for New York Cares which does collect clothes, especially coats, for those in need. The problem is intensified because of H&M’s supposed commitment to help others with unsold clothes.  Here are some of H&M’s statements about donating clothes:

“H&M donates clothes to charity

H&M is committed to taking responsibility for how our operations affect people and the environment. We donate garments that do not meet our quality requirements to organisations such as UNHCR, Caritas, the Red Cross and Helping Hands. When possible, we also donate faulty garments that have been returned to our stores. However, we do not donate clothes that do not meet our safety requirements, chemical restrictions or are damaged. We have agreements with reputable aid organisations in most of our sales countries. In total, more than 500,000 pieces of H&M garments were donated during 2009.

We are currently looking into if we can further improve our routines.”

“Gifts in kind International

H&M’s US sales operation donates thousands of garments from its corporate facilities through Gifts In Kind International, a nonprofit organization that distributes products to community services groups that are improving the lives of people in need.

In order to be eligible to receive H&M product donations through Gifts In Kind, your organization must have 501(c) (3) status and offer programs or services that enhance education, promote healthy living, provide opportunities for women and children to reach their maximum potential or work to improve the environment.

If your organization meets these guidelines, the next step is to register with Gifts In Kind International — either directly or through a local Gifts In Kind® program located in any one of the more than 300 communities they serve around the United States.

For more information, please go to:

So the idea that H&M donates clothes to charity is not a one-time statement, but an integral part of its CSR discourse.  People expressed their anger on blogs and at the company’s Facebook site.  Here are some comments from the Facebook site:

Eva Ramey Swontek Whoever
made the decision to destroy these clothes instead of donating should
be fired! Perhaps a few months of unemployment and knowing 1st hand the
need for chairitable organizations would be a good lesson.
Irresponsible at it’s definition H&M . . . I would expect better
from your company.

Sheryl Johnston So dissapointed in you. Couldn’t you guys donate the items? This is greed of the worst kind. How low can you go?!!!! will certainly not shop there again!!!!

Anja Gesell I find this an OUTRAGE!!! Considering that we have so many less fortunate persons in our worlds society. Those clothes could have been put to better use. I will boykott H&M in germany, period. EVEN I GIVE MY CLOTHES AWAY TO LESS FORTUNATE and I dont own a multimillion Store possibility, to make a difference –

H&M became more responsive as the reactions reached corporate ears.  However, as the story broke, there was no statement at its US web site.  However, here is an example of their response as reported in the news media:

“H&M spokeswoman Nicole Christie said: ‘It will not happen again.’

She said company policy is to donate unworn clothes and did not know why this store was instead cutting them up and throwing them out.

The company said that it gave half a million pieces of clothes to charity last year, but that not all items qualified. ‘We do not donate clothes that do not meet our safety requirements, chemical restrictions or are damaged,’ it said in a statement. ‘We are currently looking into if we can further improve our routines.’”

The situation is not a crisis, it is more of a para-crisis.  A negative situation is developing that warrants a strategic response (para-crisis) but we would not need to assemble the crisis team.  Acting counter to one’s stated CSR values is a problem that cannot be ignored.

Questions to Consider

  1.  How would you recommend H&M respond to this para-crisis?
  2. What role is social media playing in the situation and how might H&M us it to their advantage?
  3. Why is it so troubling that H&M seems to be violating its own CSR practices?
  4. In general, what makes the actions taken by H&M and Wal-mart so upsetting to people?
  5. Will people react differently to Wal-mart’s actions?  Why or why not?
  6. Culturally, how do Sweden and the US differ in terms of valuing CSR?

Pumpkin Shortage: Para-crises still need attention

December 9, 2009

I have to admit up front that I grew up loving pumpkin pie.  It is safe to say I have nieces and nephews who are addicted.  If my mother does not make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving and Christmas there is no consoling them.  So when news broke in 2009 of a possible shortage, in my family that would be a crisis.  But for Nestle (corporation) and Libby’s (the brand) it is what we can call a para-crisis.  Para can mean like or resembling or subsidiary to.  A para-crisis resembles a crisis but is subsidiary to a true crisis.  You will not assemble the crisis management team for a para-crisis but it does demand some attention and a strategic response from the organization.  Para-crises threaten reputational assets without the potential to disrupt product and/or harm stakeholders.  The reputational threat means that the various crisis communication theories oriented towards reputational concerns play well with para-crises.

The pumpkin pie shortage is a result of two straight years of wet weather that limited the pumpkin crop.  Libby’s represented 80% to 90% of the canned pumpkin market  That is domination of a market.  Most pie makers do use canned so there is the tie to pumpkin pies.  Here is how Libby’s  (Nestle) explained the situation:

Mother Nature has been fickle this year!

Due to poor weather conditions, the pumpkin harvest is smaller than we expected so it may be hard to find LIBBY’S Pumpkin this holiday season. The heavy rains throughout the harvest have made it nearly impossible to pick our pumpkins. That’s because tractors and other equipment are not able to move through the saturated fields.

At LIBBY’S, we’re proud of our quality and we know that you trust us to deliver the best. The longer the pumpkins sit in these muddy fields, the more likely it is the quality of the pumpkin has declined. So we’ve made the difficult decision that we will not pack any more pumpkin this year which means that through the holiday season and until next fall’s harvest, LIBBY’S pumpkin will be hard to find.

Last year’s harvest was a wet one too, so we planted more acres this year, hoping to can more pumpkin. Early in the harvest, it looked like we would have plenty of pumpkin, but Mother Nature had other plans for us. We hope she’s better to us next season, giving us a little less rain and a lot more sunshine because we are already planning to plant even more acres of pumpkins. This way everyone can enjoy as many delicious pumpkin dishes as they want!

Don’t let this news dampen your holiday spirits. If you can’t find LIBBY’S this year, we would like to suggest some delicious alternatives that offer a sweet ending to your Thanksgiving meal.  If you go to the link there is an effective video showing the fields and discussing the problems. 

Oddly, Nestle was working to prevent a shortage.  In 2008, rains hurt the crops but there was enough to get by but not much slack for 2009.  So, Nestle, who controls 85% of the pumpkin crop fields, increased planting to help offset the poor 2008 crop.  So they were thinking ahead but you cannot control the weather,0,5196858.story?track=rss

Of course there is a bright side for others who sell pumpkins, better sales, especially organic pumpkin farmers.  But most customers need the can rather than fresh pumpkins so the shortage possibility exists.  Many grocery chains had signs warning customers pumpkin filing might be hard to find.  Reports seem to indicate that Thanksgiving was oaky but now the fears turn to Christmas.  Will there be enough for the second feast of the holidays?,0,7049581.story

Questions to Consider

  1.  If we consider this a crisis, what type of crisis would it be?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  2. What value is there in Libby talking about how it was prepared to cover the problems of 2008 by increasing its planting in 2009?
  3. What crisis response strategies were Libby’s using?  Justify your selection of a crisis type.
  4. How effective would you say Libby’s para-crisis response was?  What is the rationale for your judgment?
  5. Does this para-crisis create any need for instructing and/or adjusting information?
  6. What else could Libby’s have done to help manage this para-crisis?

Raisin in the Spotlight: Sun-Maid goes CGI

December 4, 2009

In 2006, Sun-Maid made a significant change in the Sun-Maid girl. The 1915 image was revised, in advertising not on the box, with a CGI makeover for part of the 90th anniversary.  This was not the first revision to the iconic Sun-maid girl but is clearly the most dramatic.  The original image is from a watercolor painting of Lorraine Collett Petersen, an actual person.  The most recent CGI version changes the pose from just holding a basket to holding a bunch of grades too and updating her look.  You can find a history of the image at  Keep in mind the image on the box did not change, only the advertisements and the image used at the web site.  Other iconic advertising images, including Betty Crocker and Misses Butterworth have be revised over the years.

Both the new look and CGI effect have draw attention and critics, much of it recent attention.  In December of 2009, Yahoo featured a story about the change and its critics.  Here is their description of the change:  “in giving the female face of their product a substantial makeover from a young, early 20th-century girl into a buxom, modern young woman, leading some to say that the newly made-over raisin girl looks like a Barbie Doll in Amish attire.”

The Yahoo story noted critics were both conservative and liberal. 

Conservative Critic

“If you spend as much time watching television–particularly children’s programs — as I do lately, you are probably wondering the same thing I am: Since when did the Sun-Maid Girl become hot? Apparently the computer-animated version of the Sun-Maid Girl has been out and about, gallivanting through the grape rows of the San Joaquin Valley since around 2007. According to Sun-Maid, Lorraine Collett-Petersen is the source of inspiration dating back to 1916. She had a few face-lifts over the years (the one with whom we are most familiar dates from 1970) but, we are assured, her image “has always stayed true to the original image of Lorraine Collett that has been trusted and cherished by consumers around the world for generations.” Really? Have you seen the original Sun-Maid Girl? Have her bake some raisin-nut bread for you, sure. But for a night out on the town, I’m taking the one reimagined by Synthespian Studios. Even the voice is seductive. It’s as if Julia Roberts decided to don a red bonnet and start picking grapes. I just can’t wait for the computer-animated version of the Land O’Lakes Indian girl!”

Liberal Critic

Sun-Maid has had yet another makeover. And apparently some implants. And a cleanse. Lorraine Collett-Petersen would hardly recognize herself. Even if the company claims it “has always stayed true to the original image.”  One comment noted, “Ugh, gross. What’s wrong with the cute, retro styling of the old one?”

Here is the Sun-Maid position:

“Set to turn 90, the Sun-Maid Girl deserves a new look for the new century and our continued mission of sharing the benefits of naturally delicious raisins and other dried fruits with consumers,” said Barry Kriebel, president, Sun-Maid Growers of California. “We’re excited with the resulting television commercials, which put a modern spin on our message that raisins are ‘Just Grapes and Sunshine.’”

Questions to Consider

  1.  How would you evaluate the effect of the makeover on the Sun-Maid reputation?
  2. Why would Sun-Maid change the visual for advertising and the web but not for the box?  Is there a problem with this split visual representation?
  3. If part of the change was to attract stakeholder attention, how would you rate the success of the effort?  What is the basis for your evaluation?
  4. Do you agree or disagree with Sun-Maid’s rationale and why?
  5. What argument could be made for creating wide exposure of that change?
  6. How else could Sun-Maid have promoted the visual update?
  7. What are the benefits and liabilities of using a CGI version of the visual?

Leggo Some Eggo: Beneath the Shortage

November 22, 2009

In November of 2009, the major news outlets carried the story of a pending food shortage in the US.  The story also spread across Facebook and Twitter. The product shortage would last until the summer of 2010.  The food in short supply, Kellogg frozen waffles—Eggos.  Not a major crisis for consumers but it is a problem for Kellogg.  Shortage means less sale of the product.  Moreover, the shortage is a result of business discontinuity.  Kellogg manufactures Eggos in four locations in the US.  The largest bakery was offline while major equipment changes were in being made.  That was a planned stoppage.  The cause of the shortage was the unexpected shutdown of the bakery in Atlanta, GA.  When heavy rains flooded Atlanta, the Kellogg facility was a flood casualty.  Flood waters are not clean so the facility needed to be thoroughly scrubbed before it could reopen.  Here is how Kellogg explained the situation on their web site:


I have not been able to find Eggo® waffles in the store. When will they be available again?


Kellogg Company recently experienced supply constraints caused by flood damage at our bakery in Atlanta.  In addition, we’ve been making significant equipment enhancements and repairs in our largest waffle bakery.  Unfortunately, this is taking longer than anticipated. 

The Eggo™ team is working around the clock to bring everyone’s favorite waffles back to store shelves as quickly as possible.  We hope to regain full distribution of Eggo products by the middle of 2010. This is a top priority for Kellogg Company.


Click here to receive periodic updates from the Eggo® brand about your favorite products, including news about when they will be back on shelf, or for more information, call 866-971-3320.  Thank you for your patience during this time, and we apologize for any inconvenience.”

Most of the news reports repeated Kellogg’s story.  Flood coupled with an equipment change created the shortage.  For a sample story see

But there was more to the Atlanta facility closure and business interruption than the flood story revealed.  The Atlanta facility has been closed prior to flood for extensive cleaning.  According to the Georgia Department of Agriculture (GDA), the facility was closed due to Listeria monocytogenes being found in some samples of Eggos.  Listeria is a rather harmless bacteria but can be dangerous for people with weak immune systems, newborns, and pregnant women.  It is estimated that 4,500 cases of Eggos were recalled in early September.  The facility was then closed for cleaning and was about to restart when the floods hit.  The news stories and Kellogg information did not address the Listeria shutdown, all the blame rested on the flood.

The Listeria recall was not a secret.  The recall was voluntary and reported in September.  It was an FDA Class II recall meaning the probably of serious illness was remote.  There were no illnesses reported from the tainted Eggos either.  The GDA oversaw the cleaning process.  The exact products recalled were:

Kellogg’s Eggo Cinnamon Toast waffles, 10-count package, UPC code 3800040440 with “Best If Used Before” dates beginning with: NOV22 10 EA, NOV23 10 EA and NOV24 10 EA.

Kellogg’s Eggo Toaster Swirlz Cinnamon Roll Minis eight-count package, UPC code 3800023370 with a “Best If Used Before” date beginning with NOV15 10 EA.

Questions to Consider

  1.  Was it ethical for Kellogg to avoid the discussion of Listeria when explaining the Eggo shortage?
  2. Why would Kellogg want to avoid mentioning the Listeria in the shortage coverage?
  3. What is the advantage to Kellogg discussing the Listeria issue given that a few media outlets and online commentators made the connection?
  4. What does this case illustrate about the power of the Internet and the news media to reveal information companies wish to avoid—why it is hard to “hide” information these days?
  5. How could Kellogg use the shortage to benefit the Eggo brand, especially its online presence?
  6. How would you rate Kellogg’s handling of the initial Listeria problem and what justifies your rating?
  7. How is this case related to risk communication?

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