How Do You Stop A Rat From Getting Out of the Can?

Chef Boyardee has been a family food staple for generations.  Spaghetti and meatballs in a can has been a quick and easy treat for parents to serve their families. Now, after the posting of a video on YouTube showing what appears to be a dead rat in a can, Chef Boyardee is a brand that is tarnished.  How much of an impact will this have on the brand?  That depends on how quickly they deal with the fallout.

“I opened it up and my face was very close to it and immediately you could tell there was a dead rodent on top, in fact you couldn’t even see the spaghetti and meatballs at all,” said Jennifer Aker, the Ohio mom who opened the can in question.

ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE: CAG), the owner of Chef Boyardee, was contacted by Aker and asked her to freeze the contents of the can so they could have a courier pick it up for testing.  They asked her to take a photo of it.  Instead, Aker had her nephew film a video which promptly made its way to YouTube for the world to see.

Local news reports used the YouTube video and ConAgra Foods spokesman Dave Jackson was quoted as saying:

“We take all consumer inquires seriously, and when a consumer has a bad experience, we work with them to determine the source of the problem and correct it. We also work with them to make up for their experience as best as we are able.”

In today’s world of internet video, waiting for testing simple doesn’t cut it.  When looking at the ConAgra website there is no response at all to this video.  No statement is posted in the press room section. In fact, the last notice is for a corporate purchase of Elan Nutrition back on April 12.

A rodent finding its way into a can of spaghetti and meatballs during the canning process is certainly remote, but definitely possible.  Whether this case really did occur or whether this is a prank by an Ohio family looking for attention remains to be seen.  However, all the general public knows is that they smell a rat and Chef Boyardee is going to pay the price.  How many kids shopping with their moms will walk down the aisle at the supermarket and say, “Do you think there’s a rat in that can?”  How many thousands of others have already heard about this and shared the video?

If this was the 1950’s, a person going through this experience would be shocked and would have most likely contacted the company.  They probably would not have even thought to call the local media to complain. Today, a consumer calls the company and then takes their plight to the blogosphere, YouTube, the media, Facebook and a myriad of other outlets to share their outrage and shock.

ConAgra Foods needs to act fast.  A review process should be activated to evaluate security procedures in the cannery process of its goods.  Are safety and cleanliness guidelines being met?  Have there been past rodent problems at such facilities? If so, how have they been dealt with?  How often is this monitored?

B-roll footage of the canning process should be posted online on the ConAgra website and YouTube.  If there is no existing footage, a crew should be brought in immediately to facilitate this. A statement should also be posted as well.

ConAgra Foods, which also makes such brands as Healthy Choice, Egg Beaters, and Hunt’s, Orville Redenbacher and Banquet among others, and has a vision statement which is, “One company. One goal. Making the food you love.”

Allowing one video to tarnish such an old and reliable brand as Chef Boyardee would be a shame. That’s why the testing phase is over. Whether real or staged, this video has already done damage.  It’s time for ConAgra to take action.  And for other companies, they should review their crisis plans to see if they will be ready when the time comes to let the rat out of the can.

 Tom Cosentino




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