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Heinz Ketchup’s Response to Rat Fur Story: Bland but Effective

Earlier this week we learned that Heinz Ketchup has, or had, a bit of a rat problem. Brazilian health officials discovered traces of rodent fur in a batch of the red stuff made in Mexico and sold in the land of the bossa nova, and every news outlet ran the story. We get it; this isn’t a very appetizing thing to think about.

But what could the Heinz team do about the crisis, really? Not a whole lot.

People got upset, and a glance at the brand’s Facebook timeline reveals that, beyond the usual (unanswerable) GMO questions, a few Brazilian/American customers left outraged comments about rat hair. Some even got a little creative with Photoshop:

Heinz didn’t make a statement, put out a press release, or even write a Facebook post responding to the controversy. But they still did everything right, with community managers on hand to respond to angry fans in both English and Portugese:

The message is basic and incredibly dry: this product was made in Mexico, it’s no longer available in Brazil, and here’s a number/email in case you have more questions. One commenter on a related PR Daily post makes a good point:

I handled PR for a grocery chain and about four times a year we had to handle such claims, many of which were valid and some were hoaxes….The only change is social media and the usual over-reaction on that front. Just because people over-react on SM doesn’t mean companies must.

It’s true. The fact that people flip out for a day or a week on social media shouldn’t prompt a dramatic response or apology. Part of the art of PR is deciding how to respond, and in this case the brand simply wouldn’t have benefitted from making this case out to be more than what it is: an unfortunate, unappetizing but extremely common occurrence in the food industry.

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