Nightmare and disaster: two words that spring to mind to describe Britvic’s troubled summer. The drinks giant attracted unwanted headlines back in early July when it was forced to recall millions of bottles of Fruit Shoot, its children’s drink brand, after a six-year old boy in Colchester was found by his mother choking on a detached part of a newly-introduced cap known as the Magicap. The product is now back on shelves with an alternative ‘sports cap’.
Unveiled in May, the Magicap aimed to stop juice from spilling. The cap has proved to be an expensive mistake and the recall is set to cost Britvic up to £25m – five times more than its original estimate of between £1m and £5m. Shares in the drink manufacturer slumped by 13.4% following the announcement of the recall.
Consumers can be forgiving if this type of situation is dealt with quickly. Nevertheless, parents would argue that the Magicap should never have made it to shelves in the first place if it posed a risk, and it did take several days for Britvic to issue a statement on the actual problem.
The company still has not revealed what the exact problem was; and beyond its own published statements, the business has declined to discuss the problem further with Packaging News
So what can Britvic do to restore consumer confidence in its products and, particularly, the Fruit Shoot brand?
Addressing the problem
The theory is that the company needs to be seen to have addressed the problem and communicated it widely. However, rivals might also benefit in the short-term.
Christos Tsinopoulos, a supply chain expert at Durham Business School, says he will still be buying Fruit Shoot drinks for his children. He argues that Britvic can recover and cites big names, such as Toyota and BP, that have recovered from similarly bad PR stories.
Tsinopoulos reckons that the bigger the company, the more likely it can recover and, as long as Britvic has the right quality systems in place and sends out the right signals to parents, it can recover.
On the other hand, not all brands recover from slip-ups and recalls. Nicholas Mockett of Moorgate Capital says he can think of three good examples: Coca Cola’s Dasani, where the soft drinks giant admitted the product was purified tap water; the Ratner jewellery chain, where owner Gerard Ratner joked that the jeweller lasted less time than a prawn sandwich and was “crap”; and Hoover and its ‘free flights’ fiasco – a promotion that the brand underestimated and cost the firm £48m.
Nothing brings about a loss in public confidence and damage to a brand’s reputation a recall. British Brands Group director John Noble says: “Product recalls inevitably affect brand equity – something has clearly gone wrong, wherever the fault may lie. The impact however may be tempered by brand strength and how the company manages the problem. People have short memories and if handled correctly, damage can be contained.
“I suspect the Sudan dye scandal [a red dye that caused a health scare after being found in chilli powder] doesn’t affect people’s purchasing today. And most people will have forgiven Mercedes and the difficulties of its A Class with the Elk Test [a manoeuvre causing the car to overturn].”
However, Noble warns: “The response of competitors mustn’t be ignored. Arguably Perrier handled its Benzene problem professionally [the carcinogen was found in several bottles in 1990] but it opened the door for competitors and it was never to regain its market dominance.”
But is risk taking ever warranted? Will Britvic’s experience scare brands into being conservative and not innovative with their packaging? Brand and design consultancy
Echo’s creative director Bic Bicknell says that there are occasions when it is the right decision to create a fuss about potential safely and health threats relating to packaging.
But in this case, he argues, the hysteria and subsequent damage to the Robinsons’ brand was not proportionate to the threat it posed. Bicknell explains: “Robinsons’ prompt action – the recall – was the only one possible but, even if there are potential modifications to the flip-top hinge that will reduce the propensity for the lid to detach, there will always be a three year old with razor sharp teeth who can bite through a plastic hinge and choke on a cap.
“What is sad, for me, is that it will mean that within Britvic there will be a shadow over any future packaging innovation projects. Marketers, packaging technologists, supply chain managers, tool-makers and suppliers will all be suffering from the perceived failure and potential witch hunt for where to hang the blame. Enthusiasm for innovation will be dampened and risk aversion attitudes will dominate for years to come.”
So, what now for Britvic? As Packaging News went to press, the drinks firm was in ongoing talks with AG Barr, the maker of Irn-Bru, over a possible merger that would create one of the biggest soft drinks companies in Europe.
Only time will tell how much damage the recall has done to the company and the
Fruit Shoot brand. But right now the nightmare seems to be over.