The recent horsemeat scandal has highlighted the vital importance of businesses having a solid crisis communications plan, and making sure that social media is integral to this.
With all the major supermarkets and food producers active in social channels, it was no surprise that many consumers took to Twitter and Facebook to look for information and ask questions about the provenance of the meat they’d bought, as well as the potential safety risks of eating contaminated produce. However, while many supermarket chains and producers were left scrambling to explain how horsemeat had got into the supply chain, Morrisons quietly set about capitalising on the crisis, and used its social media channels as the main point of communication to do so.
So how did Morrisons go about doing this? Firstly, it’s important to understand how its business model differs greatly from that of its competitors. Unbeknown to most consumers, the Leeds-based supermarket is Britain’s largest food manufacturer. This is thanks to its strict policy of farm-to-fork vertical integration, and the fact it owns 18 food manufacturing plants with over 7,000 employees. This very different business model has allowed it the enviable position of being able to boast about the security of its supply chain on own-brand products.
Quite simply, Morrisons buys animals directly from farmers and sends them to their own abattoirs. The meat is then available for purchase over the counter, or – and here’s where some of those food manufacturing plants come in – it supplies its own food preparation sites with meat in order to make its own-brand pies, sausages, cooked meats and other products.
Up until three weeks ago, Morrisons has been promoting this business model by extolling the benefits to farmers, and promoting its better quality control, reduced waste and better use of resources. Now, however, fate has handed Morrisons a marketing message that its competitors were unable to deploy for themselves.
And Morrisons has certainly been quick to deploy these marketing messages; regularly taking to its social channels to remind customers of the fact that it controls its own supply chain, which has also– so far – remained completely clear of contaminated meat. And these messages have gone down well, with its horse-free meat updates being shared by thousands of customers both loyal and new at a time when much of the chatter in social was at its most hysterical and humorous.
And it’s paying off. In the last few weeks Morrisons’ butchers sales have increased by nearly 20% since the crisis broke. As you can see in the graph below, the number of people talking about Morrisons in Facebook has exploded and they’ve earned themselves thousands of new followers. Nevertheless, having dealt with the horsemeat scandal so capably, they now face a new challenge – how will they keep those new customers and fans engaged and coming back, and how will they continue to maintain and develop their online presence?