UTS Library

Nippy's - A Salmonella Outbreak & Company Under Threat

Client: 

Knispel (Nippyâs) Fruit Juices

PR Company: 

Hughes Public Relations

Award Category: 

Award Type: 

Call Number: 

1999 C 7

Year: 

1999

Executive Summary: 

On Monday, March 8, 1999, John Knispel, managing director of Knispel (Nippys) Fruit Juices, received a call from the SA Department of Human Services.  The Department had found a potential link between fresh chilled fruit juice made by Nippys and salmonella.

Nippys fresh chilled fruit juices were found to contain traces of Salmonella Typhimurium phage type 135a which, by the end of March, had affected over 400 people in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />South Australia.

Hughes Public Relations worked with a crisis team to implement a communications strategy that would:

  • Present Nippys as concerned for the safety of its customers, rather than its own future,
  • Minimise media criticism and speculation and manage media interest,
  • Minimise the loss in sales,
  • Prevent further infections.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

A national recall was undertaken and the companys processing plant thoroughly checked to identify any source of Salmonella.

No source of contamination or lack of food safety was found in Nippys operations and the SA Health Commission subsequently identified the source of Salmonella infection as oranges supplied by a SA Riverland packing shed. 

Nippys products returned to the shelves in April with the approval of the SA Health Commission and the strong support of its customer base.

 

Situation Analysis: 

The aim was to develop a media and communications strategy to help Knispel Fruit Juices manage an issue and resultant crisis in which Nippys reputation and brand name were in jeopardy.

There were two essential deadlines:

1.      Immediate advice on the day of the crisis.  This was directed at media issues management to ensure that Nippys was seen as open, honest and prepared to comment as much as possible, bearing in mind that there could (and would) be legal issues arising from the crisis.

2.      Timely development and implementation of a strategy to inform customers, distributors, the media and the public.  Again, this had to be achieved as soon as was possible.

Government liaison

The Department of Human Services the Department responsible for the recall process - had a responsibility to the public to protect them from the outbreak and therefore a potential liability if it was seen to support in any way the recommencement of sale of Nippys products.

From a public relations perspective, the Department did nothing to support public confidence in Nippys products.

At the same time it was important for Nippys to maintain a close working relationship and open and cordial communications with the Minister, the Department and its representatives.

The consultancy established close links with the Ministers office and the Departments media unit as a means of facilitating this process.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Industry relations

From a public relations perspective, industry trade bodies also did little to support public confidence in Nippys products.  The Australian Fruit Juice Association (AFJA) issued a news release stating that Nippys was not a member of the association and that its members are proud of their safety record and have first-class manufacturing facilities and safety systems.

The AFJAs news release contained no reference to the fact that Knispel (Nippys) Fruit Juices is one of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Australias most respected fruit juice companies and had been operating for more than 30 years without blemish.

 

Research: 

The following research was used to ascertain the direction of the media and communications strategy:

  • Monitor media activity and respond/initiate appropriately.
  • Commission market research to independently determine customer sentiment.
  • Monitor calls to the national toll free advice line to determine the nature of customer and retailer concerns or queries and respond appropriately.
  • Feedback from distributors and front-line staff.

 

Target Policies: 

Communication Strategy: 

The strategy to implement the project consisted of these key elements:

  • The crisis team comprising legal, media, systems and business advisers was available 24 hours a day and met daily in the first 7-10 days following the investigation to provide strategic advice.  Thereafter, meetings were held as required to review and plan activities.
  • Prepare John Knispel as Nippys only public spokesperson on the issue.  Knispel was advised to build on the companys strengths and refer to the companys proud (South) Australian heritage, its immaculate safety record, its 32-year celebrated history and vast industry experience.
  • Swift provision of factual information to the media in advance of the media seeking that information.
  • Strong and positive communications with customers and distributors to maintain essential product confidence and enhance trust in Nippys.
  • News statements were preferred over news releases to prevent misrepresentation in the media.  These were prepared and issued in close collaboration with legal adviser, Simon OLoughlin.
  • Nippys national distributors and retailers were kept informed and reassured through direct meetings and frequent telephone contact.  A national toll free advice line also was set up to handle such enquiries.
  • Nippys front-line staff including distributors and office employees were fully briefed on the situation and the companys PR strategy being regularly addressed as a group by the consultancy.
  • Staff were kept fully informed during the investigation via a daily bulletin which was displayed alongside messages of support from customers and recent media coverage.
  • Customer advice advertisements were prepared and published throughout <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Australia in the daily metropolitan media.
  • A national toll free advice line was established within 24 hours of the re-call and staffed by a fully trained team of operators 24 hours a day until Nippys were satisfied that all queries and concerns had been fully dealt with.
  • The South Australian Health Commission was kept fully informed of Nippys initiatives, with Hughes Public Relations liaising closely with the SA Health Commissions Media Unit, the Minister for Human Services advisers and the Office of the Premier.
  • Nippys commissioned an independent management systems consultancy to help identify the source and demonstrate that it was doing everything possible to resolve the problem.
  • Hughes Public Relations attended all Department of Human Services news conferences and immediately briefed John Knispel on the outcome so that he could comment swiftly and appropriately on all Government announcements.

 

 

Implementation: 

Results: 

Evaluation: 

No source of contamination or lack of food safety was found in Nippys operations and the SA Health Commission subsequently identified the source of Salmonella infection as oranges supplied by a SA Riverland packing shed.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

The toll free advice line received over 50 calls of support from the community (as well as over 340 enquiries about returning product and seeking medical advice).  Nippys also received several hundred telephone calls and facsimiles of support from complete strangers.

Hughes Public Relations also commissioned Harrison Market Research to undertake a telephone survey of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />Adelaide adults which showed that 90 per cent of those contacted who were Nippys drinkers would return to the product as soon as it was available.

As a result of the responsible and positive way in which the issue was handled (and as a result of the considerable goodwill within the SA community built up by Nippys over the past 32 years) the company has enjoyed strong support from its customers, retailers and distributors and has maintained its market share.

According to Knispel Fruit Juices director, John Knispel, Nippys national sales are currently less than 10 per cent down on last years figures and increasing week-by-week.  Despite a general decline in the market, the company is expected to equal last years sales within two months demonstrating that it has emerged from this crisis as strong if not stronger than ever.

Furthermore, the company has not been forced to reduce prices in order to retain market share or buy customer loyalty.

The close cooperation and ability of the crisis team to develop the right strategy and act upon it confidently gave Nippys the critical edge in issues management.