Shabbos hasn’t been the same in years recently. Zomick’s, the admired bakery for Shabbos challah, was recently torched by a pest scandal that described how Zomick’s hasn’t passed health inspections for years. Some of the inspection results have been disputed but the PR problem remains.
The news is particularly disturbing to Jewish customers that strictly adhere to high Kashrut standards. Bugs and vermin, aside from being totally unwelcome in diets, are also not Kosher. When it comes to Kosher issues, the Jewish community stands on alert. This crisis is reminiscent of the Monsey non-kosher meat scandal that surfaced years ago as well as Morrell Caterers kosher drama and the Hebrew National kosher issue that occurred a few months ago. Bugs & rats are extremely bad; bugs, rats, and Kashrut issues are catastrophic.
When a revered brand like Zomick’s gets hit with such a bad report, it makes you wonder what major food manufacturers won’t be hit by a health scandal. Rest assured, though, the problem was more than just a health inspection. In our opinion, Zomick’s has a PR and communications issue that didn’t help them when the time was needed and, more importantly, before it all happened. So here’s five PR moves that Zomick’s did wrong (but could still do!) when averting a crisis that your business can learn from so you don’t suffer a similar bump in the road.
1) Communicate before, during, and after a crisis.
Many Jewish businesses recognize that they have a stable customer base: there’s Shabbat every week, large Jewish families are constantly growing, and there’s generally enough revenue to allow all competitors have a piece of the pie. So why invest in communications, marketing, and social media? This crisis is exactly why. Zomick’s has become a brand out of touch with the Jewish community. Currently, they don’t even have a full website with nutrition facts or product news nor a social presence to allow for customer feedback, comments, or discussions. Their health standards aren’t disclosed to the public and there’s no way for the public to be shown how they operate. The OK examined the Monsey meat scandal and determined that non-kosher meat may have been substituted for kosher meat for almost eight years! Unless there is transparency on food & health, there’s no guarantee that the problem hasn’t been ongoing for years nor that is is solved.
Businesses need to communicate with their customers instantly or they will lose the loyalty in a crisis. If Zomick’s had a Facebook page, they could have communicated directly to their customers the minute negative news hit. Instead news spread on Twitter and Facebook like wildfire about pests & Zomicks, without yielding a single social media objection instantly & directly from Zomick’s ownership. If Zomick’s had a customer email list that they had sent weekly emails to for news and products, families may not have reached for Beigel’s challah instead of Zomicks’ this past weekend. And now that the PR crisis is still on people’s minds, even in the Five Towns, their homebase, they need to start building a PR and marketing presence to let their customers know they actually care and aren’t merely trying to disprove the health department findings.
2) When it comes to food, bad PR is bad PR.
Look how quickly people turned on Paula Deen; she’s a fantastic cook and issue had nothing to do with her cooking (no matter how unhealthy it may be!). When it comes to food, bad PR can’t be turned in any direction these days. Doing a Google search on Zomick’s yields about 50% positive and 50% negative results; in customer’s eyes, that’s 100% bad. Just like sensationalist magazines and celebrity gossip, people are drawn to negative news and they hold onto it until they want to give it up or another hot negative item catches their attention. Anthony Weiner may have gotten a second chance but that was two years later… is Zomick’s willing to wait two years before they start getting good publicity from the public?
3) Being Kosher won’t save you.
Just because you are a kosher product, that doesn’t mean you’re healthy. Hebrew National learned that a while back. A Kosher product adheres to certain guidelines but is not a guarantee of healthy. Yes, green, natural, organic and kosher all tend to be lumped together positively but kosher doesn’t always oversee the manufacturing process of basic items like bread. When it comes to meat, Kashrut supervisors are extremely fastidious but challah is a simple item that doesn’t much oversight and Zomick’s reputation used to be stellar. Just because your product is kosher, it doesn’t mean you’re always answering to a “higher authority”.
4) Never take a holding pattern. Take an action pattern.
When it comes to customer loyalty, there’s no holding pattern to regain it. You need to prove you deserve it. Challah isn’t exactly a unique product – local bakers to supermarkets to moms make challah every week and this scandal is just another reason to stick with their local options. Zomick’s needs to show customers why they deserve a second chance and waiting out the bad publicity without action is just giving local bakeries a chance to gain more loyalty. In fact, numerous supermarkets, like Fairway Market, offer Zomick’s and their own baked goods so the choice between fresh and packaged is even simpler now for customers. Businesses lose loyalty all the time which is why they actively communicate through coupons, special offers, contests, and announcements. You can never wait for loyalty to return. Your business has to prove you deserve it.
5) Appeal to more than Jews.
The Jewish media was quick to pick up the news about Zomick’s. As a result, the Jewish community doesn’t exactly forgive when it comes to a doubt in Kashrut and sales & reputation will instantly fall. If you’re a brand that can sell to the American public, you have a market to fall back on when sales from your primary market take a hit. Hundreds of Jewish food companies rely solely on the Jewish community but understanding how American consumers think is vital to great success. Sabra is advertising their hummus products to the American mainstream even now. Think outside the box when it comes to your Kosher product and you’ll be prepared if your primary market starts to waver.
Zomick’s still has time to repair the damage but it involves more than simply disputing the charges. Zomick’s needs to become more upfront and communicative with their customers, establish a greater presence in food discussions, and create a social place for redemption. The Jewish community is quick to forgive but not so quick to forget. Challah is easy to find, bake or buy. Zomick’s needs to prove they’re worth the second chance.
Henry Isaacs Marketing | Isaac Hyman, Founder