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Country of Origin Labelling

A year ago we explored the question of what was the most valuable role that governments could play in capitalising on supplying Australian food and fibre products to the booming export markets to our north (read article here).

During the intervening 12-months our opinion that there needs to be increased promotion of Australian product through a dedicated branding initiative has not diminished. In fact, as the economy goes through the transition that we hear so much about, the need for such action is heightened.

Over recent weeks there has been some commentary on virtually the inverse of an export brand in the form of Country of Origin Labeling.

Stimulated by the Hepatitis A berry outbreak of February this year, the Department of Industry and Science has conducted two-months worth of industry consultation, and now has a community survey open (CoOL Community Survey) until 3 July.

Commendable as it is to consult broadly, it is difficult to shake the notion that this exercise is being guided down a certain path. Admittedly, we did not participate in the industry consultations, however a healthy dose of skepticism is always warranted when community views are gathered in a closed format as this one is.

It’s the considered opinion of this business that what is truly required is to burn the Rome of food labeling to the ground and rebuild it in its entirety based on what it is that the consumer wants. Nay, demands.

We are living in a Monty Pythonesque food labeling dystopia when food can be ‘Made in Australia’ without using any Australian ingredients.

It has been made abundantly clear by the Australian public (who coincidentally consume these products, feed them to their children, and actually pay for them) that they simply want to know where their food comes from.

One would think that by starting with such a simple premise it would be near impossible to obfuscate the matter to such an extent that the Department finds that current laws are ‘of little relevance to consumers’ whilst simultaneously being ‘burdensome to business.’

It is our sincere hope the current consultative process yields a clear and concise representation of where the product has come from to permit Australian consumers the ability to make informed purchasing decisions.

Now that is starting to sound a bit like a brand.

Tasty-Summer-Fruits-On-A-Woode-46208980-e1440035721383-2

Danger Zone in Food Crisis Management

By Rob Masters

In an ironic twist, the theme of Australian Food Safety Week of late last year – The Danger Zone – could not have been more applicable in the last three months throughout Australia.

To name but a few, there have been –

  • salmonella outbreaks in Brisbane affecting more than 200 people;
  • a $25 million settlement offer by soy milk company Bonsoy to 500 victims food poisoning (perhaps the largest settlement for a food poisoning case in Australian legal history);
  • Woolworths supermarket on the Gold Coast being named as the source of a dead mouse in a rice paper roll;
  • approximately 200 Australian cruise ship passengers bound for New Zealand restricted to their cabins after exhibiting severe food poisoning symptoms; and
  • the recall on of Nanna’s frozen mixed berries and Creative Gourmet mixed berries from the supermarket shelves following notification of Hepatitis A cases in Victoria and New South Wales.

Each year an estimated 5.4 million Australians are affected by food poisoning.

Preparedness for the management of such crises should be a high priority for anyone in the food industry. The visibility an issue can give to a company often leads to its future viability and credibility.

Unfortunately, the investment in preparedness is still neglected today. The adage “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” is typical of many companies. They pay lip service to having a crisis plan, having it tested and having it maintained for currency.

Yet in today’s multi-mediia environment, a single tweet can turn an issue into a full-blown crisis of global proportions.

The Nanna case is a typical example. It has brought into focus the quality standards of the berry industry of China and Chile (the source of Nanna’s products) along with that of the packaging processes of China.

The Australian Made campaign called for the purchase of “genuinely Aussie products”, and sectors of the horticultural industry called for greater quality controls on imported foods.

The issue also put further focus on “quality control testing” and the timeliness of activating recalls for “public safety and confidence”.

The issue here has its foundations with leading Melbourne radio commentator Neil Mitchell with his often asked question: “How long did you know about the issue before you activated the recall?”

This is a tipping point for all food related industries in a crisis.

The testing for contamination can take days or weeks, which makes the decision to recall very difficult.

Do you sit and wait for verifiable evidence, or do you do ‘the right thing’ by the community and recall; hoping you have enough crisis management skills and plans in place and ‘reputation goodwill in the bank’ to see you through.

No mater what, you are in ‘the danger zone’. (And the actual ‘danger zone’ for food where bacteria thrives is between 5C and 60C).

JustSayNo

Just Saying NO! persuades no one

By John Kananghinis

Sometimes it is necessary for those in business to convince policy makers of the merits, or otherwise, of a proposed course of action.

It may well be that the natural business reaction in a particular case is to ‘just tell them no’. No, your idea will not make things better. No, your new policy will not create jobs. No, it is not more efficient. No, it will not fix a perceived problem.

The trouble is if the policy makers have invested political capital in effecting change just saying no is what they expect from vested interests. The bare facts of the matter will not necessarily carry the day. What may be required is an appreciation of where the policy makers are coming from and a more nuanced approach that may result in a policy outcome that avoids the worst potential outcomes of a new proposal.

This is basic human nature. Attack generates defence. A consultation that accepts some need for change, which highlights the pitfalls and then goes on to suggest solutions, is far more likely to get a hearing.

When governments talk of  ‘reform’  one thing is certain, there will be changes. They have staked their political futures on it. The task for impacted businesses is, with the benefit of their deep industry knowledge, to highlight areas of unintended consequence and difficulty, and to seek a seat at the table that works on balancing the reform with relative stability.

Of course it may be that business wants the ‘reform’ in question, then it is even more important to be part of the process and not a spectator.

The skills required will be to know what to say to whom, when and how to say it. That is what true ‘lobbying’ is all about. Threats, deals and calling on old friendships don’t and shouldn’t work in a transparent democracy.  Reasoned representations that help policy makers see the real-world impacts of their actions, and suggesting how those impacts can be as positive as possible, do.

ICG and its affiliates can offer decades of experience in working with businesses seeking to communicate and consult with State and Federal Governments on policy reforms and regulatory changes. That experience allows for the development of strategies that engage rather than alienate, strategies that increase the chances of a better outcome.

Tobeornottobe

Social Media – To be, or not to be? A case study.

By Angus Nicholls

The reports that were published last week regarding a social media attack by anti-Halal groups on the Fleurieu Milk and Yoghurt Company (FMYC) started me thinking. Do all companies need a social media presence? The next thought was what other actions, rather than dropping Halal certification (and, as a consequence, a $50,000 contract with Emirates), could have been pursued?

With regard to a social media presence, my opinion is that not every company needs to be there. I accept that this is probably an unpopular stance amongst most communication practitioners on the basis of being “left-behind.” However, my position is informed by the simple proposition of whether social media is tangibly contributing to your business, rather than just following the herd.

Given that forward planning is an essential element of business, the key questions that I would use to assess whether to establish and/or maintain a presence on social media are:

  • Does the business require social media to engage and interact with our customer base (understanding your customer demographics is essential to accurately answering this question)?
  • Is our presence generating and/or underpinning sales?
  • Is social media contributing to the development of our brand?
  • Do we have the resources to keep our presence up-to-date, monitored, and interactive?

In short: Is social media directly relevant to our activities?

I would further argue that unless there is a specific strategy in place for the use of social media that there are two particular categories that it does not sit comfortably with: Small businesses with a tight resource base (human and financial), and perishable products. That is not to say that businesses in these spheres should not have an online presence.

From my reading of the reporting on FMYC it looks as if they suffered the perfect storm: Some unreasonable online zealots attacking their business pursuing an unrelated agenda; the company adopting a course of action to placate their detractors (it would seem as a symptom of not having the resources available to comfortably manage the issue); losing a contract for a product that generally does not require Halal certification by most Muslims; and suffering yet more opprobrium for backing down in the face of the attack that the business had endured.

In line with our philosophical position that if you are going to commentate, it is always important to make practical and constructive contributions in parallel. So what would have we recommended to a client in this situation.

  1. Do not panic.
  2. Decide a course of action. We would have recommended holding the business’ position, and explaining why that was the right thing to do based on facts and the values of the business.
  3. Develop a standard online response (for use across all online platforms).
  4. Establish a set of talking points for telephone enquiries, importantly including a polite way to exit the conversation so as not to waste excessive time.
  5. Alerting key customers (i.e. Emirates) to the situation and explaining the course of action that had been decided upon, and seeking their support and third party endorsement.
  6. Develop and release a statement to the media outlining the issue and FMYC response, as well as the rationale justifying the response.
  7. Establishing a monitoring regime, escalation/de-escalation triggers, as well as defined escalation/de-escalation actions.

I am the first to admit that it is always much easier to have an opinion in retrospect, however the core element to any form of great communication is exceptional planning. That is what we here at ICG/RMA do.

Furthermore, I hope that other Australian businesses either do not have to endure the online thuggery that FMYC have recently had to (sadly I suspect that this is a forlorn hope given how courageous anonymous online operators seem to be); or that they are at least prepared to protect their values and operations in the face of any unreasonable attack that may be launched against them.