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Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Scooped Up Crisis Communications to Save the Brand

By August 5, 2015 No Comments

When Jeni Britton Bauer’s now-famous ice cream tested positive for Listeria in April, her small specialty ice cream company was thrown headlong into its first recall. The ensuing mayhem took months to correct, turned her small Columbus, Ohio, team of 40 into a triage center, and cost more than 265 tons in lost ice cream.

But falling back on the close relationships her team maintains with regional and national dairy and produce growers – as well as relying on a motivated, tightly knit staff – has allowed Britton Bauer’s team to emerge from the recall while staying true to the Jeni’s Splendid brand.

Recently, the 22 Jeni’s scoop shops finally reopened, and the company hopes to ship pints from its e-commerce store (which account for much of the brand’s business) soon.

Here’s what Britton Bauer learned about leading through a crisis and shared with Fast Company:

1. Be Transparent

Within the first 12 hours of the crisis, Jeni’s had set up a separate page on its website dedicated to the recall. The brand has a fiercely loyal fan base and an active social media presence, so all channels of communication were turned towards educating Jeni’s customers about the recall’s effects. A call center was set up to field queries from supermarket buyers and online customers. Bauer says her team learned that “just owning it, even if it sucks,” was the way to go. “It goes back to your values,” Bauer says. “And customers responded to the approach. We were getting messages from people who weren’t customers of ours, who hadn’t had our ice cream before, but now wanted to have our ice cream because of the way we handled the recall,” says Jeni’s digital director Ryan Morgan.

2. Trust Your Team

The moment they received news that traces of Listeria had been detected in a Lincoln, Nebraska, testing facility, the Jeni’s team threw its Columbus kitchen into triage mode. Kitchen and finance staffers alike were answering the phones. A core team was delegated to keep plugging away at their regular tasks. And Jeni’s was able to secure ice cream-making space almost immediately inside the facilities of one of their dairy suppliers in Ohio to begin making up for the lost inventory.

3. Know When To Delegate

Working in temporary digs inside another dairy means paring down the Jeni’s menu to nine ice creams (in fan-favorite, simple flavors like Ndali Estate Vanilla Bean and Brown Butter Almond Brittle). But the equipment is different in many cases, and Bauer’s team has had to shave off time and effort where they can. So they turn to friends of the brand to see where it’s possible to outsource ingredients. One of those friends – American Spoon Foods in Traverse City, Michigan – is in talks now with Jeni’s to explore how they might make the jam for one of Jeni’s most beloved flavors, still absent from the menu: Brambleberry Crisp. Whereas Jeni’s had always made its own jam from fruit they sourced, cleaned, and cooked, American Spoon would help Jeni’s source the fruit and create the jam, all without reintroducing the risk of Listeria from the fresh produce.

4. Think Inside The Box

Bauer is a fan of restrictions. A challenge or crisis is where there’s the most potential for a creative spark, she says. “There’s this idea that creativity is about blowing it up and having no boundaries and doing something and not thinking about it. But actually it’s about doing the most you can within the box. Doing what nobody’s ever done within that set of parameters. And that sort of classic creative thinking is what we’ve been doing – finding ways to make our ice cream even better. Not just the same, but even better.”

First Amendment Support Grows, Belief in Media Objectivity Wanes

Americans’ support for the First Amendment rebounded strongly over the past year, a new study says.

Three-quarters of Americans say it “does not go too far” in ensuring Americans’ freedom. That’s a jump from 57 percent last year after the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 stirred public debate about the role of social media during a crisis and the media’s use of shocking images, according to State of the First Amendment 2015, a report by the Newseum Institute’s First Amendment Center in partnership with USA TODAY.

A year ago, 38 percent said the First Amendment goes too far, but the current survey shows only 19 percent agrees with the sentiment. The study saw a similar dive in public opinion and a subsequent recovery after the 2001 terrorist attacks, the authors noted.

Americans are also skeptical about the news media’s claim to objectivity. Only about a quarter – 24 percent – believe that the news media try to report on news without bias, a 17-point drop from last year. It’s the lowest since the study first began asking this question in 2004.

A flurry of headlines in recent months about the journalistic sins of high-profile media personalities – Brian Williams, who was demoted at NBC for lying; and ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, a former aide to then-President Bill Clinton whose contribution to the Clinton Foundation came to light recently – may have negatively influenced respondents’ feelings about the news media, the study said.

Older audiences are more likely to buy into the media’s mantle of objectivity, with 26 percent of those 50 or older agreeing with the claim. Only 7percent of 18-29 year olds agree. Democrats (36 percent) are much more likely to believe in the news media reporting without bias as opposed to Republicans (19 percent).

Other conclusions:

o Christian nation: A slight majority, 51 percent, believes the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, largely unchanged since the question was first asked in the 2007 poll. The belief is more prevalent among older respondents, 54 percent, than younger people, 37 percent.

o Serving gay couples: Despite advancements in gay rights, the percentage of people who agree that wedding service providers should be required to serve same-sex couples has fallen to 38 percent from 52 percent in 2013.

o Recording police: Eighty-eight percent of Americans say they support allowing people to record the activities of the police as long as they do not interfere with police actions.

o Depicting Mohammad: Sixty percent say they are in favor of allowing cartoonists to publish the images of prophet Mohammad, while 32 percent are against this. The survey didn’t ask about the images of other religions.

o Confederate flag: About a third, 35 percent, agrees that the government should be allowed to deny issuing license plates to a group that intends to display a confederate flag on the plates. The majority, 56 percent, opposes the government’s right to deny.