Nutella and KFC Face Costly PR Nightmares


After advertising its chocolate spread Nutella as a healthy meal, part of a balanced breakfast, New Jersey-based manufacturer Ferrero USA, Inc., decided to revise its advertising and marketing messages. The company agreed to a $3-million settlement to end four lawsuits inspired by Athena Hohenberg, a Californian mom, who claimed she was shocked that Nutella was not as healthy as advertised. Ferrero will now reimburse anyone who bought Nutella between August, 2009 and January, 2012.

Ferrero USA, Inc. settled, despite the fact that the nutritional values of the popular chocolate spread are clearly displayed on the label. The advertising campaigns, however, may be regarded as misleading by some – and obviously in the case of Athena Hohenberg vs. Ferrero the joke is on Nutella. Busy mothers, naive enough to believe that chocolate spreads are healthy, are offered a precedent to sue whenever they feel like. And Hohenberg’s chances to win would have been greatly reduced if it weren’t for such commercials:

$3-million sounds a lot for people who don’t make much – but multi-national conglomerate Ferrero is not threatened by money. They are, however, in a losing position, as they will have to change their PR message. Nutella can no longer be advertised as part of a healthy, nutritional breakfast – hence, we can imagine the job of Hunter PR, Nutella’s Public Relations company is about to become much harder.

Nutella’s trials pale in comparison to what’s in store for KFC, who must pay $8.3-million to an Australian girl who, back in 2005, fell ill with salmonella poisoning after eating a Twister wrap at a KFC fast-food in Sydney. The girl, then seven-year-old, was in a coma for six months, and is now wheelchair-bound and severely brain damaged.

KFC says they will appeal against the decision, despite the fact that Monika Samaan, the alleged victim of a Kentucky Fried Chicken salmonella infested Twister, is in no condition to live a normal life. One has to wonder what price KFC puts on ruining a human life, and when a matter of doing the right thing matters, even for such a large company.

KFC Australia’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Sally Glover said in an official statement on KFC Australia website, that there was not enough evidence to show that KFC caused this tragedy, and that the company will appeal Justice Rothman’s decision:

“We feel deeply for Monika and the Samaan family however we also have a responsibility to defend KFC’s reputation as a provider of safe, high quality food.”

Even if KFC wins the appeal, the PR effects of the matter, given the players, may be severe for the fast-food giant. Emanate PR is agency of record in the US, Ketchum Public Relations works for the brand worldwide, and Freud Communications represents KFC in the UK.

The public will not like that KFC is fighting tooth and nail against a disabled girl. Samaan’s lawyer, Anthony Bartley SC, told in court that KFC food practices were not entirely safe:

“If the store was particularly busy, then even if chicken dropped on the floor… it was on some occasions simply put back into the burger station from where it had fallen.”

It’s hard to argue with such claims – the public is usually aware that fast-foods workers may disregard basic health-safety guidelines when working under pressure. Can KFC prove that all health norms have been respected at all times? Time – and the results of the appeal – will tell. In the meanwhile, KFC has to deal with a storm of negative media.

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