How Do You Rebound from an Adulterated Product?

Suzanne Shelton

May 18, 2011

3 Min Read
How Do You Rebound from an Adulterated Product?

Editor's Note: In light of the recent blog post on that spiked product adulteration ruling in Idaho, Suzanne's post is particularly relevant…There is a way to correct an honest mistake. If it's a not-so-honest mistake or not the first time a company's hand is caught in a cookie jar, well, that's a different story.

A conversation with a colleague about product adulteration got me thinking: Is there any coming back from getting caught selling an adulterated product? Yes, if a company is a solid, responsible member of the industry. If it’s one of those fringe companies that did it intentionally or through stupidity, no. Of course that kind of company doesn’t have a reputation to defend, anyway.

Reading reports of FDA enforcement action, I seldom recognize the companies they have taken action against. I only work with companies in the responsible core of the industry, but as we all know, “things” happen.

You spend decades building your reputation, but it only takes one incident to damage it. That said, how you handle it can absolutely mitigate the impact. Your less-scrupulous competitors may remind customers of the incident periodically, but how you handle it is what your customers will remember.

First of all, there has to be a commitment to acknowledge what happened and what steps the company is taking to make sure it never happens again. Assemble your crisis response team and sit down with your plan (you DO have a crisis communications plan, right?). It’s probably going to take time to find out details of the problem, so make a statement to that effect ASAP, and reiterate the company’s commitment to safe and efficacious products. You will need to communicate with your internal people, your customers, and usually the industry trades, and the message is not always the same. It makes sense to confer with your trade associations – they can be enormously helpful with guidance and information. The rest of your PR work involves actually fixing the problem, and then telling your customers what you did to protect them in future. The absolute worst thing you can do is lie. You will get caught, and your image is toast --permanently. Anything on the Internet, and everything is on the Internet, is findable forever.

All the big pronouncements in the world won’t repair your reputation if you do the same thing again. Repairing your reputation requires vetting your suppliers thoroughly; having top-notch QA people following your thorough GMP protocols, and making sure your customers know it.

Of course I’m talking about spiked product adulteration here. Economic adulteration is a different kettle of fish, a ticking time bomb, and our Achilles heel. Using cheaper, sub-par ingredients is not easily identifiable the way a product spiked with a drug is, so it’s not so much a question of getting “caught.” It’s really a question of efficacy, and of consumers not getting the benefits they are paying for. When products don’t work, customers stop buying them, studies don’t show benefits, and our industry’s future becomes unsustainable. 

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