Sickeningly Sweet: Blue Bell’s Ice Cream Crisis
Colorado had only four years to experience Blue Bell ice cream before it was taken off the shelves in April following a listeria outbreak linked to three deaths and ten hospitalizations. Before this, Blue Bell was one of the nations’ top-selling ice cream brands; Forbes had even named it the best ice cream in the country in 2001. So when the brand decided to pull 80 million gallons of product off the shelves, the company found themselves in quite the crisis, both with their finances and their reputation.
Many companies would go bust after such an incident, but on Monday some of Blue Bell’s classic flavors found their way back onto shelves, much to customers’ excitement. So how did Blue Bell manage to turn the crisis around in just four months?
Address the Problem (Before It Gets Worse)
Many companies choose to just ignore a problem when it arises, hoping it will fade away and be forgotten. Any marketing expert will tell you that this is probably the worst thing you can do. But Blue Bell didn’t just acknowledge the issue through press releases and social media – they took action and voluntarily recalled every product they had on the market, showing that they not only cared about the quality of their product but about the health and safety of consumers as well.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
There’s a reason it’s written three times! Blue Bell may have been off the shelves, but they didn’t just disappear. Rather, they kept up constant, honest communication with consumers on all of their platforms. From April to August, Blue Bell tweeted multiple times a week, informing fans of everything that was going on in the company – from facility testing to massive layoffs – and even directly responded to some of their more disheartened followers, thanking them for their support. Crisis or no crisis, this kind of two-way communication is absolutely necessary to build a trusting relationship between brand and consumer.
Build the Buzz
Blue Bell wasted no time in gathering excitement for the ice cream’s return. The brand has been a Texas staple since 1930, right next to cowboy boots and football (the Houston Chronicle dedicated a full page to the ice cream shortly after the recall). Lucky to have such a loyal fanbase, Blue Bell capitalized on this to help spread the word that #BlueBellisBack. They teased customers both new and old by announcing a different flavor that would be returning each day leading up to the release, even creating an Instagram account specifically for this purpose – an account that, with only 8 posts, quickly gathered over 18,000 followers. Though only four flavors (Homemade Vanilla, Dutch Chocolate, Cookies ‘n Cream, and The Great Divide, if you’re curious) are released at this time, the limited release is sure to not disappoint fans, but rather only get them more excited for the other 62 flavors to come.
Only time will tell if Blue Bell’s return is truly a success, but given the amount of people flocking to the store already, we have no doubt it will. By maintaining honest communication with customers, capitalizing on their existing fan base, and successfully promoting their comeback through social media, Blue Bell’s near-disaster serves as a fantastic example of how to successfully navigate crisis communications.
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Now enough blogging – we’re off to get some ice cream!