Can Blue Bell Repair Public Image After Listeria Outbreak?

One professor says the company has a lot of work ahead to repair public trust.

By Ed MayberryMay 11, 2015 8:05 am

This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media

The Food and Drug Administration says Blue Bell Creameries knew there was listeria in one of its plants are far back as March 2013. But the company didn’t issue recalls until after the products were linked to illnesses this year. What does that mean for Blue Bell’s image?

The recall has been heartbreaking for the company, its workers and for the town of Brenham, according to a “crisis guru” hired to help guide the company through the recall.

Associate Professor Jay Neal is with the University of Houston. He says the company has a lot of work ahead to repair public trust.

“The crisis guru’s job is going to have to rebrand or develop confidence in the product again,” Neal says. “I think you’ve seen all the outpouring in the community the past few weeks, you know, where you have full-page ads coming out and street signs and prayer rallies, and I think that’s wonderful. I do think that they will be able to survive this crisis.”

Dr. Neal notes that people returned to Jack-in-the-Box, Tylenol, Excedrin, spinach and GM cars after similar disruptions.

“It’s funny. The community has a short-term memory in terms of certain — they remember the outbreak, it happened, but it really hasn’t changed behavior. They go back to their old ways, over time.”

Blue Bell is not a corporation — it’s been a family-run business for over 100 years, and Professor Neal says that continuity may actually play into their favor.