By: David Bloch
Monday August 3, 2015
Last month, grocer Whole Foods apologized for systematically overcharging customers for pre-packaged food. “Straight up we made some mistakes,” stated Co-CEOs Walter Robb and John Mackey. “We want to own that.” To try and stem the criticism, the company outlined a three-point plan involving retraining employees, implementing an audit process, and giving away any future mislabeled products.
But the response followed by more than a year the grocery chain’s payment of an $800,000 fine for the very same violations in Southern California, and more recent charges by the New York State Department of Consumer Affairs of labeling product weights improperly. Whole Foods stock has dropped precipitously in recent weeks.
The problem, as an article in Legal Examiner explained, is that although Whole Foods tries to stand for integrity, wholesomeness, and value, “branding itself as a corporation that cares about people cannot exist in the same space as mislabeling and misleading people.” Further, PR experts largely have taken the company to task for moving too slowly to respond to the mounting number of charges of deceit that one national columnist wrote have “shattered” Whole Foods’ carefully-burnished brand.
At CommCore we counsel our clients that their crisis planning should include contingencies for releasing forthright holding statements of genuine concern early-on, even while gathering facts. This is especially important when, as one PR Thought Leadership blogger, noted, “it looks like Whole Foods saw this train coming, and chose to just keep standing in the middle of the tracks. There’s no crisis communications plan that can make a decision like that look good.”