Canada's Biggest Food Crisis


One of Canada’s pre-eminent food companies initiated the largest recall in Canada’s history, including three SKU’s of deli products that were contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes. While only some of these products were affected, the recall was linked to illness and death. The plant in question was closed and nearly 200 products were recalled. To mitigate further risk, we first established a process for frequent, open and transparent dialogue to update the public on the emerging situation. Following this, we needed to educate Canadians through fact-based, open communications about the recall and associated safety protocols, positioning the company as a leader and advocate for public education on food borne pathogens and food safety. As part of a very tight communications team, we developed and implemented a multi-tiered crisis management strategy approach to maintain an open line of communication with employees, customers, consumers, investors and the media through: media conferences with access to the CEO, news releases and plant tours for the media; full page ads in national newspapers, TV ads – also posted on YouTube, a toll-free line and a food safety micro-website for consumers; technical briefings for customers; investor conference calls; and, numerous internal updates from the CEO, including employee conference calls. Following the crisis, the ongoing communications strategy positioned the company as a leader in food safety through the implementation of a best practice food safety program, ongoing education on food borne pathogens, and advocating for higher food safety standards throughout the industry.

The Results

  • In the first 10 days following the recall, there were more than 2,500 print, broadcast and online articles. In the first month, this number rose to more than 4,500. Majority of articles and interviews represented quotes from the CEO or company spokesperson, accurately representing the company.
  • YouTube hits of the CEO commercials reached nearly 75,000 within a very short period of time. Marketing and PR experts and schools across Canada revered the decision to put the CEO in the forefront to represent the sincere remorse of the company.
  • The plant in question reopened the following month and resumed production under enhanced food safety protocols.
  • A consumer confidence survey reported intent to purchase product rose from 64% the month following the recall to 90% in just four months.