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Eating Mr. Ed

Public Relations

Vendors in crisis management mode after horse meat found in “beef” burgers

Last week many shoppers in the UK and Ireland were dismayed to hear that they very well may have eaten horse meat when consuming what they believed to be pre-made beef burgers sold in several popular supermarket chains.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland made the discovery, and tracked the tainted meat back to two meat processing plants in Ireland and one in the UK. Most of the burgers contained very low levels of horse DNA, but a sample of Tesco Everyday Value Beef Burgers was found to be made up of some 29% horse meat!

While all of the vendors involved will be facing a recall of the implicated batches, Tesco, known as Fresh & Easy here in the States, is taking the brunt of the grief due to the shocking 29% horse meat found in its burgers. Despite what likely came as a major shock, the company is doing a solid job of crisis management, releasing the following statement on its Facebook page not 24 hours after the story first broke:

We apologise.

You have probably read or heard that we have had a serious problem with three frozen beef burger products that we sell in stores in the UK and Ireland.

The Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) has told us that a number of products they have recently tested from one of our suppliers contained horsemeat.

While the FSAI has said that the products pose no risk to public health, we appreciate that, like us, our customers will find this absolutely unacceptable.

The products in our stores were Tesco Everyday Value 8 x Frozen Beef Burgers (397g), Tesco 4 x Frozen Beef Quarter Pounders (454g) and a branded product, Flamehouse Frozen Chargrilled Quarter Pounders.

We have immediately withdrawn from sale all products from the supplier in question, from all our stores and online.

If you have any of these products at home, you can take them back to any of our stores at any time and get a full refund. You will not need a receipt and you can just bring back the packaging.

We and our supplier have let you down and we apologise.

If you have any concerns, you can find out how to contact us at the bottom of this page, or go to any of our customer service desks in-store, or ask to speak to your local Store Manager.

So here’s our promise. We will find out exactly what happened and, when we do, we’ll come back and tell you.

And we will work harder than ever with all our suppliers to make sure this never happens again.

Tesco made a good call spreading its apology through social media. Angry customers were already creating a ruckus on its Facebook wall and flooding its Twitter feed with posts, so placing the apology where eyes were already directed had the immediate effect of lessening the level of public outcry.

The apology itself was spot-on as well, including plenty of detail, assurances for customers regarding their health, clear explanation of how the products in question would be handled, an easy way for stakeholders to interact with the company and a promise to prevent the issue from occurring again.

While it will take a bit of time for the hubbub to die down online, and as long as the promises made are kept, we wouldn’t expect Tesco’s brand to see any lasting damage thanks to a rapid response and strong crisis management.

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