Six months from now, all might be forgotten. But in the meantime, the fallout and lost production from the e. coli contamination of Natural Selection Foods’ share of the $300-million fresh spinach industry has been disasterous. Not only have stores cleared their shelves of the product, but restaurants have followed suit by banishing dishes containing spinach from their menus.
As a result, a first-ever industry image campaign is ready in the wings, waiting for an expected FDA advisory following their investigation before launching.
Unlike the oil and tobacco industries, posessing both deep pockets and addicted customers, the link between consumer and spinach is rather tenuous. Might spinach eaters switch to kiwis? Maybe. Perhaps dried cranberries.
Growers can’t afford to ignore the problem and hope it goes away. Thus the campaign. Yet the basis for the erosion in consumer confidence lies at the very core of the fresh produce industry.
Some years ago, burger chain Jack In The Box® was hit with an identical problem. They recovered because they were able to prove to the public’s satisfaction that the problem was solved, in part by hammering the hell out of their burger patties on the grill. See? Nothing wrong with these sandwiches, taste aside. No such remedy in this case.
As a culture we’ve grown used to the advantages of corporate concentration. This is a perfect example of the kind of disaster that can cripple a market. Time will tell if the cure is as illustrative.