Sandwich chain Pret A Manger is facing its biggest PR nightmare its making headlines for not consistently listing all ingredients on packages. According to data analytics firm Newton Insight, consumer confidence in Pret a Manger has sharply declined as a result.
In 2015, a teenage girl required emergency medical care after a “life threatening” reaction to sesame in one of Pret’s products. Following this, in 2016 and 2017, two girls died after an allergic reaction after eating at the sandwich chain. All of these incidents were a result of the company’s not adequately labelling its products with allergy information.
Pret’s response to these situations have been everything but commendable. In one of the instances, the company hampered investigations after refusing the reveal the batch number of the affected batch.
Crisis communication and PR experts have been quick to point out Pret’s shift to full allergen labelling has been much too slow and as a result, the company brand could suffer.
After a study spanning from January to September of 40,0000 social media accounts, Newton Insight estimated mistrust in the brand has grown by 10 percent. This leaves a trust deficit of 20.4 percentage points.
Newton Insight also comments on a decline in the ‘joy’ in Pret, noting a slump of 19 percent, while fear and anger towards the brand has grown by 6 and 5.7 percentage points respectively.
“In the first nine months of this year, the strongest emotional signals expressed by Pret customers were joy, trust and delight. These three responses have suffered the biggest downturn since the allergy story broke,” said Newton Insight Managing Director Philip Lynch. According to Lynch, social media posts presenting Pret in a positive light have gone down by 20 percent in the past ten days.
“Some people see the food allergy incidents are symptomatic of a deeper corporate malaise”, Lynch commented, further noting consumer anxiety about the company’s supply chain as a concern for vegans, customers with allergies, and people who have specific diets for religious or health reasons.
Sharp declines in trust and positive attitudes towards a brand is endemic for brands in crisis. Dove faced a similar crisis after an ad depicting black women taking off their tops and turning into white women.
“In the weeks following the public reaction to the Facebook ad, Dove’s customers became less motivated to engage positively with the brand,” Lynch said. “They didn’t criticise Dove, but nor did they actively embrace it. Since the start of October, we have seen a similar pattern developing amongst Pret customers, with fewer people commenting on how good the coffee is or how cheerful the staff are.”
What’s important in such situations is to maintain open and honest relationships with the customer, as opposed to a more muted relationship which can further the damage. In the case of Pret, the company should address the customers’ anger, as well as the source of sadness or anxiety in relation to the brand.