Cinnamon Toast Crunch: More Toast, Less Crunch

I have been following the Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shrimp saga and have more than a few questions: Was it meant to be a marketing ploy? Was it driven by the consumer to gain publicity? Was it a knee-jerk response? Or was it a case of communications gone wrong?

If it was meant to be a marketing ploy, does it really help a brand to respond in such a flippant manner? Surely, ‘globs of unmixed ingredients’ do not transform into perfectly formed shrimp tails – and even when the company made statements about taking safety very seriously, its actions did not match up. 

The mantra of ‘any publicity is good publicity’, no longer works. In today’s world of social media on overdrive, publicity happens quickly, and often with little proof. Intentionally generating bad publicity and using it to build stronger visibility is plain silly – especially for a brand in the food business. 

As appalling as food safety issues are – they happen routinely. Even in 2021 and under much more stringent rules and regulations, cases of contamination, tampered products, machine failure, and human error aren’t unheard of. Just this past month, Singapore recalled eggs for Salmonella contamination. It has happened before and it will happen again.  

So, how should brands respond when faced with a food safety issue? It’s really about immediacy and first impressions. 

First impressions set the stage

It’s clear that Cinnamon Toast Crunch did not take the matter seriously enough in the beginning. And, at this point, they appear to be under equipped to manage this issue. 

A golden rule of Issue Management: Stop the bleeding, as quickly as possible – ideally, before you can even blink! The first statement that was released set the stage and should have focused on safety, and appropriate follow up actions.

In this case, Cinnamon Toast Crunch should have talked about getting to the bottom of the matter by immediately sending a pick-up service for the package to be tested in the lab.

Be transparent from the get-go

Be honest, be authentic and control the narrative. Instead, the company issued a statement without a lab analysis or targeted recall, to say: “After further investigation with our team that closely examined the image, it appears to be an accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren’t thoroughly blended. We assure you that there’s no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp.” 

We’ve all seen the image, and it wasn’t cereal. Of course, people on social media weren’t having it, and cue the speculation, memes and comments. Here’s where the brand lost control of the narrative. Had the brand done its due diligence, and issued regular statements to keep the public informed — I reckon it could have minimised the damage. 

So what could they have done? The Power of Three!

Actions speak louder than words

Food safety can be scary. In the past four years alone, there have been more than 1,500 recalls and safety alerts for products regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Food safety horror stories go the full spectrum — from finding frogs in soda to glass in baby food. It’s so important to get the right information out to customers, and to match it with the right actions. In an era of declining trust, rebuilding reputations require consistent, constant communications, and actions that back it up. 

Clarify and be honest

Don’t dismiss the customer’s claims (especially on social media) until you have solid proof. Your goal is to reassure your customers by words and actions, which is why it’s important to explain and highlight the steps and processes that you’ve taken to get to the bottom of the matter. 

Have a heart

Always demonstrate compassion, and remember that the customers are mostly reasonable people. The days of putting out disingenuous  standard holding statements are over because. Take every complaint seriously, and respond in a timely manner by highlighting the steps you’re taking.  

Stephen King goes “There’s no harm in hoping for the best, as long as you’re prepared for the worst.”

If you’re looking for a team that can help you  manage issues, we look forward to an opportunity to meet. Do drop us an email at [email protected].

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