Company News & Food 13 Dec 2006 06:00 am

Unknown E. Coli Source Hurts Taco Bell

by Sean Hackbarth

Reuters’ Nichola Groom gets a marketing exec to tell us that not finding an E.coli source isn’t good for Taco Bell’s business:

Confusion surrounding the source of an E.coli outbreak linked to Taco Bell will make it harder for the Mexican-style restaurant chain to reassure customers that its food is safe and could prolong a damaging sales slowdown.

“Nobody knows what’s going on here,” Jack Trout, president of marketing strategy firm Trout & Partners said. “This makes it a very hard crisis to handle because it’s a moving target.”

Trout compared Taco Bell’s situation to the more straightforward tampering issue that Johnson & Johnson faced with its Tylenol brand in 1982.

“Everyone knew exactly what that was,” he said. “It was a fixed event.”

It’s never good to have your company mentioned in the same breath as Johnson & Johnson during their cyanide trouble. The restaurant execs must be living in “Taco Hell.” Things will really heat up if someone dies from the food poisoning.

E. coli

Bob Morse at Social Media Toolbox thinks Taco Bell could have saved the $100,000 it spent on a full-page USA Today ad by publishing a weblog. It wouldn’t hurt. Morse is right that “Leveraging the social media channel is fast, enables feedback,” and “is a heck of a lot cheaper.” What really would help Taco Bell is finding the source of the bacteria and fixing that so customers aren’t scared of eating there.

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