A horse is a horse, of course, of course…unless of course that horse shows up in your hamburger patty, in which case it’s just disgusting.
You’ve probably heard about the quandary Burger King is in, in which traces of equine DNA were found in ground meat at a food processing plant which sells to the chain’s British and Irish outlets. Though it’s not confirmed that the horsemeat made it onto anyone’s plate, it still sparked an outrage throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and the world. Though the tainted “beef” has shown up in other chains and outlets throughout the area, Burger King is taking the brunt of the publicity. This all comes at a time where the company can’t afford bad PR; last year, financially-strapped BK was surpassed by Wendy’s as the second largest burger joint the world.
Initially, BK denied that they sold any products containing horsemeat — not a great start to their crisis communications plan — though the chain recently admitted that some equine-ridden meat may have inadvertently been sold. The mixed message is leading to some confusion among consumers, but Burger King has (for the most part) been handling the fiasco quite well. Last Thursday, BK issued a statement to help quell the impending crisis (you can read the full statement here):
“We know there has been concern regarding one of our former suppliers, Silvercrest Foods, and we want to thank our guests for their patience and understanding while we completed our investigation.
You wanted answers and so did we.”
So far, so good with their statement. First off, the chain acknowledges and thanks their customers for their patience upfront. Second, Burger King looks to be taking an aggressive stance on the matter, rather than a passive one.
“Despite assurances from them that our products were not implicated, we immediately launched our own internal investigation, which included scientific testing, inspection of the Silvercrest facility and scrutiny of traceability records.”
Another smart move by Burger King here. To the consumer, it looks like the chain took a proactive approach to ensuring the quality of their meat by conducting their own investigation. Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but good damage control so far.
“As we confirmed on 23rd of January, we transitioned all of our restaurants in the UK, Ireland and Denmark to other BURGER KING® approved suppliers from Germany and Italy as a precaution. These suppliers have provided DNA evidence to confirm their products are free of equine DNA. These are the product being sold in our restaurants today.”
Burger King will have to monitor their quality control closely, because if one of these suppliers has a problem in the near future, it could mean a worldwide PR disaster for the chain. However, they did the right thing in cutting ties with the offending distributor almost immediately after the scandal broke.
“Diego Beamonte, vice president, Global Quality, Burger King Corporation , said, ‘While the Food Safety Authority of Ireland has stated that this is not a food safety issue, we are deeply troubled by the findings of our investigation and apologise to our guests, who trust us to source only the highest quality 100% beef burgers. Our supplier has failed us and in turn we have failed you. We are committed to ensuring that this does not happen again.’”
The BK Lounge showed some crisis communication know-how with this statement. They chose to go to the department closest to the controversy (Quality Control) and get a soundbite from a high-ranking (if not the highest-ranking) employee. Also, even though the chain said there may not have been any horsemeat sold at their outlets, they took the high road and expressed remorse for “failing” their customers.
What makes this statement so effective in my opinion is that BK doesn’t defend the supplier, nor does it condone the consumption of horsemeat. They separate themselves from the source of the problem to the best of their ability and, though they mention the tainted meat is safe, they admit that they were led astray by false promises from the supplier. Burger King could have very easily played the “you know, in some countries, horse is a delicacy” card, but instead they took into account their audience and condemned the practice of eating our equine friends.
That’s not to say Burger King did nothing wrong. BK came out from the start denying that it had sold any horse burgers without conducting a proper investigation. They then had to backpedal with the above statement, which could put a hampering on their credibility for some consumers. Also, the scandal began towards the end of January; this statement wasn’t released until about a week after news broke and Burger King switched providers. The timing was all right, but it could have been even more impactful had it been released a few days earlier.
Overall, I think this scandal will work its way out of the news soon and Burger King will come through with only a few minor scratches. The real black eye will be on food distributors around the world, as there will be intensified scrutiny to make sure this type of problem doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. Let’s be real though: at least one food quality issue will likely break with another chain (3-1 Vegas odds it’s Taco Bell) before the end of the year. This hopefully will be a good case study for the fast food industry on how to handle worldwide crises.
Fun fact: Some dishes in Poland – the country where the offending distributor is located – use horsemeat, and horse is commonly eaten in Mainland Europe and Asia. The glue factory doesn’t sound so bad now, does it, Seabiscuit?
Grossed out? Too jaded to care? Let us know how you feel in the comments.