business news in context, analysis with attitude

The Wall Street Journal this morning reports that “restaurants and supermarkets across the country pulled certain fresh tomatoes from their menus and produce aisles in response to concerns about a recent spate of salmonella cases, delivering a serious blow to the nation's tomato growers … Many grocers and restaurateurs were careful to say that, while they didn't believe their own tomatoes were unsafe, they were erring on the side of caution. The cascade of tomato-sales suspensions reflects the food industry's concerns that the slightest uncertainty about the safety of the nation's food supply will make consumers leery for a long time.”

And that’s the big concern – that no matter what the cause of the salmonella bacteria is found to be (and it seems to be worrying health officials that they haven't been able to figure that out yet, despite 145 cases of tomato-related salmonella poisoning since April), it could take a long time for consumer confidence about the nation’s tomato supply to come back.

KC's View:
The real lesson here is that retailers have to be proactive not just about pulling tomatoes off their shelves, but informing customers about why the move has been made and what the retailer knows about the current situation. If the retailer is a source of information as well as a resource for product, it creates a level of trust with the shopper that can help to rebuild a category once things are safe again.

It also is a good time to start sourcing from local farms, wherever possible…because that creates a different sort of relationship between customers and the food they buy. (And post signs identifying the local farms, with pictures of the local farmers, whenever possible.)

But if you don't play the information game, it is going to be tougher to get back in the sales game down the road.