How recalls create category parity

frozen food, grocery, shopping, cpg, Eggo
Consumers might freeze Eggo out in light of their recall

Last month, Kellogg’s announced a voluntary recall of their Eggo Whole Grain products due to concerns about potential listeria contamination. They deserve kudos for proactively taking that action. Especially with the knowledge that many brands never fully recover from recalls.

For example, Perrier, which built its brand on natural purity was forced to issue a wide-sweeping recall in the early ’90’s due to the discovery of benzene in their product.

Ironically, the product was being used as a control by a US government agency testing local water supplies when the chemical was discovered. Perrier was forced to recall hundreds of millions of bottles and their share price dropped by $40 after returning to the stock market.

Perrier was once the gold standard for bottled water, and helped invent the category. Though the brand stabilized after being purchased by Nestlé, it lost its leader position.

Things are just as dire for Kellogg’s. Cereal sales are ever-slowing, and all non-protein rich (or perceived) breakfast products are out of vogue. Eggo is a staple in a lot of homes, but sales have also suffered.

Like Perrier, Eggo lovers will now seek out alternate brands in the freezer case. What’s worse, the new generation of shoppers has told us in multiple research studies that they aren’t shy about switching to store brands. Millennials add a new wrinkle with this behavior.

Unlike Perrier which owned first-mover status in their category and had built the brand of a premium or luxury product (depending on the market) Eggo is essentially a commodity. Though a fine product, and well-branded for awareness over my lifetime, it doesn’t occupy a specific emotional niche.

That’s supposed to be why we choose branded products over store brands or unknown brands.

Not only are there other waffles that can fill that space in the freezer, but there are others that share the unique attribute of Eggo – the shape. That some or all of those are also produced by Kellogg’s is a conversation for another article. Once a product in this situation is replaced in the shopping cart once or twice, it is awfully challenging to reclaim that place, especially when private label waffles can be up to 35% cheaper.

That’s the biggest problem here. What did the recall trigger in the minds of consumers? Yes, this event is a literal instance of Eggo being unable to guarantee the safety of its food product. But subconsciously, it’s something bigger. That’s supposed to be why we choose branded products over store brands or unknown brands. That’s why Eggo has been advertising since its inception in the 1970.

Before brand love comes brand trust. If consumers can’t trust the brand, they won’t buy it and can’t come to love it. Young consumers have proven that they are more open to store brands, so instances like this can open the floodgates of customers straying and leaving permanently. A recall is a serious strain on trust that tests the brand in question.

What is a brand to do?

First, Kellogg’s did the right thing for its customers and brand by being proactive. They deserve credit for taking action. They have to find a way to take credit without reminding shoppers (or tipping them off in the first place) that there was a health concern. They might wait until the threat is proven null to do anything.

Since they got proactive with safety, they should get proactive with outreach. Use their owned channels to communicate as the brand returns to stores and offer other Kellogg’s product before that happens. Push complimentary products now to build favorability for those, then offer a compelling offer for Eggo as a bounceback.

Think about the box. Assuming a 6-8 week absence from the shelf, consider this a new product launch. How can Kellogg’s capture the attention of their core shoppers – and new ones – to get them to pick up the product again?

Recalls are never good. Does a health-based recall kill a food brand? Not necessarily, but it won’t be an easy road back to pre-recall sales.

Author: Adam Pierno

Adam Pierno has a one-of-a-kind perspective on restaurant and CPGs. He investigates the connections between strategy, media, digital and business goals employing social media listening, analysis and traditional consumer research to find meaningful insights for brands thinking about their futures.