Over the past month I have been following with great interest the Fonterra fiasco, and the roles various parties have played in creating and sustaining the controversy.
As is often the case, media have played a major role in beating up an issue and creating hysteria amongst the general public in both New Zealand and China.
Yet underneath the hysteria, perception is very important and given this age of political correctness and the litigious society we live in lies a very important lesson. That lesson is to be upfront in any dealings from the very start and this is something Fonterra did not do well. Westland Milk Products, on the other hand, coped admirably when faced with a similar predicament – probably learning from Fonterra’s mistakes.
If media reports are to be believed, Fonterra was aware of the contamination issue back in March of this year and yet didn’t really take action until August, when it became more widely known. But in Fonterra’s eyes, this contamination was on a minute scale – which I believe may actually have been the case. Unfortunately, once the media, food police and politicians got on board it was all over for Fonterra.
Back in the mid 90’s I was living overseas in London. At that time a similar scare happened in the beef industry with the tragic foot and mouth scare in the UK and surrounding Europe. The price of beef in the supermarket plummeted through the floor with the public genuinely scared to eat it. I thought all my Christmases had come at once! I promptly went out and bought a chest freezer to store all of my newly acquired eye fillets and sirloins. I had steak every night for the next two months – it was great and (unsurprisingly) I never got sick once.
I hope Fonterra have learned their lesson from this to nip issues in the bud early to prevent or at least minimise unnecessary fallout. They are now facing the unenviable task of rebuilding trust in their brand’s reputation which will surely take some time.
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