Once Again, Be Honest With Your Customers

Here’s the scenario: a company realizes that something has gone wrong with a product and then decides to quietly pull the product from store shelves. No announcement. No formal recall. Nothing, until an online brigade of justifiably angry customers makes a stink and demands answers. Oh yeah, and a Food and Drug Administration inquiry. Finally, a voluntary recall is issued.

Quite a story, and unfortunately it’s a true one. How many times do we have to go through this simple lesson? Be honest with your customers.

The most recent company in question is Chobani, which produces “Greek”-style yogurt in a variety of flavors for adults and children. Chobani boasts a motto of “Go real,” and says it doesn’t use artificial preservatives in its line of yogurt.

Customers started complaining almost a week before the official recall that yogurt tasted “fizzy” and cup lids were bulging or bloated. The company traced this phenomenon to its Idaho plant and a type of mold that is “common in the dairy environment, particularly when using only natural ingredients that are absent of artificial preservatives,” says the company founder, Hamdi Ulukaya, in an apology letter on the company web site and Facebook page.

This is where it gets personal for me. I buy Chobani for my family, one of the reasons being that the company doesn't use artificial preservatives. So, I can be pretty understanding that this issue is more common in products that don’t use artificial preservatives.

But the thing that burns me is the perceived  sneakiness of it (or actual sneakiness – time and the FDA will tell us that one). The company could have voluntarily recalled the affected product as soon as it knew something was wrong.

In fact, I would have been saved from purchasing any of the bad yogurt had they done that last week. Two boxes of my daughter’s favorite yogurt tubes and several cups of yogurt went in the trash; unfortunately, I had already given her several of the tubes before I found out about the issues. In our case, an upset stomach over Labor Day weekend that I couldn't attribute to anything else was the worst that seems to have come of it, thankfully.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the FDA is trying to conclude if the company was communicating with the public the way it should have been. Since we still don’t know what specific kind of mold it was or why they went about it the way they did, I am not foreseeing a good conclusion from that investigation.

But I could be wrong. Oh, wait, what’s that old adage? The customer is always right.

After this devious deal, I don’t see myself being a customer of Chobani any longer.