How NOT to Manage PR – the Bonsoy Recall

by Tim M on January 27, 2010

**Update March 29 2010**
My, how the rabbit hole seems to be getting deeper! It seems as though the Bonsoy recall could be renamed The Bonsoy Debacle, with some nasty stories now starting to appear, with regard to effect on peoples health.

Original Post
I had a look over at Spiral Foods’ website, which had some information on the Bonsoy Recall.

They have a release, which I have to say, comes off as a little defensive, but also a little combative. The original press release says:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Spiral Foods is committed to the highest standards of product quality and have therefore initiated a voluntary recall of Bonsoy Soy Milk regardless of date. Testing has indicated higher than normal levels of iodine present that may result in some people feeling unwell. Iodine is a naturally occurring substance and is an essential and necessary nutrient for the body.

We are cooperating fully and closely with Health Authorities after being notified of this issue, which we take seriously. Retailers have been notified to remove all Bonsoy products. Consumers should not use this product until further notice. Any consumers concerned about their health should seek medical advice. Please take your Bonsoy to the place of purchase for a full refund.

We are hoping to have Bonsoy back on the shelves as soon as possible. We apologise to our loyal customers and ask for your patience.

They have a fact sheet, which after reading, had me double guessing their wording and the intent behind the fact sheet, which after some consideration, at least in my eyes, has some underlying feeling of casting doubt and self defence. Normally in this situation, a tightly worded release, with the facts and things currently being actioned is what is needed.

Let’s look at paragraph 2:

What has not been reported in the media is that the adults all came from the ONE medical practice in NSW (FSANZ website). Also, we have yet to be provided with hard evidence showing that this entire group did in fact consume Bonsoy, that the evidence of Bonsoy consumption is not just anecdotal and that the consumption caused their “condition”.

I don’t like the doubt cast by the use of “condition”. It implies that there they have doubts there is a condition. Heads up, Spiral. Myself and my friend have been sick (in his case, very sick) from excess iodine intake from Bonsoy. We’ve been on 1 latte a day for over a year, and on the numbers doing the rounds in the medical fraternity, a cup a day is an unsafe amount. Anyway, that advice is from 2 separate endocrinologists, so take from that what you will.

I’d also be making it my business to find the facts out – FAST – and get them out on the web asap. The market doesn’t like an information vacuum. Use of capitals and rhetorical questions don’t aid the case, hard facts do.

They state that that’s what they doing with this:

Please bear with us as we investigate and get to the bottom of this issue and establish all the facts, not just the allegations.

Problem is, once again, they’re sounding very defensive. I’d have just said: “Please bear with us as we investigate and get to the bottom of this issue and establish all the facts, so we can get Bonsoy back on sale as soon as possible.”.

If I were in this situation, I’d not be casting any doubt on the patients, the reason for their sickness, or the condition. Stick to facts. I’d state the facts, I’d steer away from using any quotation marks, unless quoting someone or an attributed source (like a newspaper article) and probably say something like:

  • On Date X, we became aware of a potential issue related to the consumption of Bonsoy.
  • X Authorities alerted us to several cases of hyperthyroidism/hypothyroidism in Area Y, with X adult cases of hyperthyroidism, and one infant case.
  • None of the cases are severe, and all patients are receiving treatment.
  • Hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid) is caused by excess iodine consumption and can result in fatigue, loss of endurance/performance in athletes, heart palpitations and increased heart rate and weight loss. Hypothyroidism is caused by an under-active thyroid and can lead to X, Y and Z.
  • Bonsoy contains X milligrams/micrograms of iodine per mL. Although there are no standards governing levels of iodine in food, and hence why this has remained undetected, a dose of Y micrograms per day is considered safe. Ed: I realise that’s a tricky line to walk, but you may as well put the information out there, as I the GPs and endocrinologists have the numbers.
  • We are yet to ascertain the exact cause; whether this is a batch or product issue, or whether in fact the cases are directly related to either normal or excess consumption of Bonsoy, or something else. Until such time as we have clarified the cause (whether this is a Bonsoy consumption related issue), we have recalled all product as a precaution.
  • In the meantime, we have voluntarily recalled all Bonsoy; no retailers should be stocking it, no cafes should be serving it. Please return any unused Bonsoy to the place of purchase for a refund and destroy any opened Bonsoy.
  • We have published recall notices in X publication.
  • Anyone feeling unwell after consuming Bonsoy for an extended period should consult with their GP immediately as a precaution.

Paragraph 4, through its use of Spiral Foods is committed to providing healthy and safe food; if you think about it, it is in our interests to do so, comes off as snide, and a little defensive.

I’d also set up a phone number for people to ring (since writing this, that’s been added).

You can read here about how some cafes are flouting the law and selling this stuff under the counter.

The more I think about this PR response, the angrier I get – people are sick and some of the medical advice I have heard has indicated this is probably the cause. I’m sure this won’t be the end of this.

**Update**

We now see this text added, obviously after getting more information. Why the need for the “it could be any brand…”? Just stick to the facts!

We have now been informed that 6 of the 8 say they consumed Bonsoy, the other two simply soy milk. It could be any brand, not Bonsoy.

So here’s the lesson in all of this. If you sell something that’s alleged to have hurt someone, made them sick, whatever, when you release your PR, make sure you stick to the facts. Sure, list the allegations, but unless they’re totally refutable, don’t go casting aspersions on the alleged victims. Acknowledge there’s a perceived problem, tell people how you’re addressing it. Nothing more, nothing less. Sowing seeds of doubt is just poor form.

(Yes, I took this press release a little personally, because I’ve been pretty unwell as a result of iodine poisoning that my endrocrinologist is pretty sure is from Bonsoy. Nothing else explains the levels of iodine and thyroid behaviour – yes I’ve had heaps of tests. And that’s what I am pissed about. People are sick (my mate is really unwell), and having to spend money and take days off work to get tested, and this is what they get – not on.).

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The Bonsoy Recall Update | The Bonsoy Debacle
March 24, 2010 at 1:50 pm
How to Lose Control of your Brand (the Bonsoy Recall) | Project Heresy
April 28, 2010 at 5:40 pm

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