Recalling a Recall

There are really only two good times to measure the worth of a brand. One, when it comes time to sell, and two, if the brand goes through a crisis. I experienced both measures working for Odwalla in the ’90s. The first happened on Oct. 30, 1996.  On that day, just after lunch, I bumped into the company PR Director in the hallway. Her face was ashen. Something was clearly wrong. “The FDA is here,” she said, “There’s been a recall. People are sick. This is really, really bad.”

The true horror of the situation would reach its peak weeks later with the death of 16-month-old girl who had consumed an Odwalla apple juice tainted with E. Coli 0157:H7. The event was emotionally devastating for all Odwallians. Sales dropped by ninety per cent. The stock lost nearly half its value. At the end of the fiscal year, the company posted a loss of 11.3 million dollars. You can imagine why many people thought the company was finished. A significant number of investors figured the company was not big enough to weather a storm of this magnitude.

But Odwalla did survive, and the 180 million dollar* question is: How?

* the price Coca-Cola paid for Odwalla five years later

Those of us here at Mythmaker who lived through the ’96 recall believe that the saving grace ultimately came down to having a strong brand built on authenticity and heart. In fact, how Odwalla handled the recall, and the role its unique brand and corporate culture played in keeping the company going,  has become a case study in effective crisis management for business schools.

As the head of “Channel O,” the company’s innovative, in-house multimedia communication department, I was in a unique position to document events. I do a presentation ( Expo West and else ware) about the recall that consist of news footage taken over a twelve-month period showing how the event played out in the media, and the impact of the company’s message strategy on the evolving story – a strategy proven so successful the case study is now referenced in business schools. Contact me if you this is of interest to you or your organization.