Frozen berries unsavoury crises

First published in New Zealand Herald  10 December 2015 

Australian business Patties Foods sells its embattled frozen berries business just as New Zealand brand Fruzio pulls its frozen berry range off shelves in its own Hepatitis A scare.

According to the FSL Foods website this is a voluntary recall with no definite link as yet, but a precautionary measure on berries sourced from the same Chinese provinces as Nanna’s.

That Australian crisis saw more than 30 people infected with an identical genetic strain of the Hepatitis A Virus and “very strong evidence” by the Department of Health linking it back to Nanna’s berries. Patties media releases claimed to have found no link between the outbreak and their brand. However, the heavy toll of the crisis wiped A$14.6 million of net profit from the business, despite overall growth in revenue when combined with Patties’ savoury business.

I guess they decided it was simpler to cut off the diseased part of the business and focus on the untainted bits.

A good choice.

Patties could spend years and millions of dollars turning the story around and rebuilding trust with customers. Or they could exit fast, lose a chunk of revenue but invest in other brands they own and build those up instead.

In a way, if history is anything to go by Nanna’s would eventually have recovered. All you have to do is look at other, far worse brand crises of the past to see that we’ve become surprisingly ambivalent about them.

Think BP’s colossal 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, one of the world’s worst and one they were fined a whopping US$18.7 billion.

Are you boycotting BP? How about just last month and Volkswagen – are you surprised to learn that Australian sales figures have rebounded and in fact now increased by 11 per cent on last year?

I don’t know what it is about us as consumers. We’re a confusing lot. Maybe it’s just easier to block out the big stuff than it is the little things. We all know electric cars are better for the planet, but we’re not buying those in any great hurry. Yet my knee-jerk reaction to Nanna’s, followed up by this ‘two strikes’ Fruzio news is that I’ll just skip the frozen berries on the shelves thanks.

As far as I’m aware the Fruzio brand isn’t sold in Australia and the first I heard of it was in the New Zealand papers surrounding the product recall. But if this made the Aussie news, talkback radio would be running wild with fiery opinions.

The hot buttons in Australian food news are country of origin labeling and food imports from places with far more lax regulations than our own. Current crisis or not, it’s pretty clear that a lot of our food isn’t what nana used to make.

Which leads me nicely back to Nanna’s. The brand granny of the frozen berry world will soon reemerge under new ownership, but I’d say she’s likely to have had a little cosmetic work done. A little nip here in the brand name. A little tuck there in the packaging. And all will be forgotten and forgiven – until the next crises.

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