Years of tainted Pet Food from China
I have 5 cats that died since 2000 that I am convinced got sick from food, (with a little help from vaccines tossed in for bad measure)
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How will we know when our job is done?
-Kim of Petfoodtracker
(Kim along with Ben of Itchmo, Nikki of Howl911, Theresa of PetsitUSA and of course Gina and Christine of Petconnection are the brilliant bloggers tracking this pet food recall crisis, go there and read, and donate too!)
I'll give some advice to the pet food companies on what to do next. (Will they listen to a Brain in a Box? I doubt it, but I have to try.)
1) Stop treating this like a recall of a defective product. This is food that kills living things. Not a product whose malfunction causes an inconvenience. This is not Dell recalling batteries. Think Johnson and Johnson recalling Tylenol. That is your shorthand message. Learn it. Live it. Love it.
2) Listen to your real customers, people with pets. People tell you that, but I know many CEOs DON'T know what their real end users really think. Who do CEOs see as their customer? Wall Street analysts, the board of directors and the major retailers. But they are not the ones whose "fur kids" are dying. Pet parents, as many call themselves, won't just down grade your stock. They want you in jail. You killed their fur kid, they will tell EVERYONE they know, until they trust you again...if ever.
3) Do the hard thing that will restore trust for the end user. The Tylenol story is bandied about as the gold standard of the right way to do things. J&J focused on restoring trust to the end user, based on their corporate value of safety, not "how to I keep the big retailers who buy truckloads happy?"
Don't think, "How do I minimize this for Wall Street so that the quarterlies will look good after the 25 million dollar write down for the recall.' Think, 'What will it take to convince the end user, whose pet is dead, to buy my food again?" When you answer THAT question then you will know what to do.
Companies ask, "What are blogs good for? " Most companies want to push to bloggers, to sell them stuff. They ask, "How do I get them to write good stuff about my products?"
Wrong question. Ask, "What are they saying about my company and product?" READ them for customer attitudes instead of figuring out how to sell stuff to people with blogs. What would you learn? Just how PISSED people are and, since your customers are smart, what they want you to do before they trust you again.
4) Bring in third party trusted testers. Not just "inspectors", TESTERS. People who actually analyze food. Then need to be independently funded and above reproach. Test EVERYTHING. Give them veto power over everything that goes into the food. For manufacturers the phase you are afraid of but you need? "They can stop the line."
5) Open up your records. Where does it comes from, what's in it? The cat's out of the bag (and he's not eating your food!) People now know about the Chinese connection, but do they know about the other dirty little secrets like rendering plants and what THEY put in the food? Dead, diseased, dying and down cattle are not good things to put in any food.
Now is the time to do this, or just wait until the mad cow strikes again, your choice.
6) Spend more on labeling than on marketing for 6 months.
7) Demand more of the FDA and the USDA and government regulators. Instead of screaming, "We can regulate ourselves!" Admit you have done a crummy job and say, "Please FDA, inspect us MORE. Here is MORE and FASTER access to our information. And here is the information about our suppliers. Here are our databases. This is NOT proprietary any more, you don't have to beg us for paperwork anymore." (I'm looking at you ConAgra).
8) Really communicate with your end users. The CEO and operations person should be on the phone talking to the folks whose pets have died. What do THEY want? What will it take to make they trust you again? If your communications people told you to do this and you didn't, listen to them now. If they didn't, get someone who understands how to keep your end users happy.
Lots of lawyers might have tried to help you minimize this. That ship has sailed, you need to go big with your story and THEN it will be minimized, but as we see from politics, it's often the attempts to cover up and down play a crisis that just makes it bigger.
I don't expect any companies to listen to or follow any of this advice. Why? Because right now they are listening to the "experts". The experts you need to hear from first are the people whose pets are sick or dead. Then trust your gut, if you have a heart you'll know what really needs to be done.
We hear you say, "We have pets too." But we don't hear what you would do if this happened to YOUR pet. What could you do to make your dead dog proud of you again? What would your dog, who you fed tainted food, ask of you to make it stop, so it never happened again? Your dog can't talk to you, but their guardians can. The parents of "fur kids" can tell you want they need.
What do I think? The company that goes big and demands testing, and welcomes regulation and opens up their books, will "win" this crisis. Everyone else might survive, but they will never come out of this like Johnson and Johnson did.
Who do you want to be like Mr. Pet Food CEO and Mr. Pet Food Brand Manager? Union Carbide after Bhopal or Johnson and Johnson after Tylenol? The choice is yours.