Cannes Lions

THE SWEDISH MEATBALLS CRISIS IN ROMANIA

THE PRACTICE, Bucharest / IKEA / 2014

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Overview

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Credits

Overview

Description

As the horse meat scandal gathered pace across Europe, horsemeat was found in an IKEA Swedish meatballs lot in Czech Republic and then suspicions pointed to Romania. Romanian media immediately asked ‘Does IKEA sell horse meatballs in Romania too?,’ stimulating media hype and plunging IKEA into a reputational crisis.

We didn't know the answer to this question. Even worse, it would take 10 days for official test results to show if the IKEA meatballs sold in Romania were contaminated. In this limbo, how could we ensure Romanians continued to trust IKEA?

We had to act fast: in just four hours there were already 43 pieces of local coverage, in a media environment that favours lurid speculation over objective facts.

IKEA’s global management initially decided not to withdraw meatballs from sale, but the local communication team recommended temporarily withdrawing meatballs to show it was putting customers first and acting with extra caution while waiting for test results.

A key strength was that many Romanians liked IKEA and its meatballs. So we built our strategy around their affection and with 100% transparency and honesty we proved the company still deserved their trust, avoiding disappointment, speculations, accusations.

The team’s advice paid off: only 10% of coverage was negative (vs. 15% anticipated) and 80%+ included IKEA’s official position. Post-crisis research showed that the number of Romanian consumers who thought ‘IKEA is a company I trust’ actually increased by 1% compared to prior to the crisis, and sales of IKEA meatballs in Romania were not affected.

Execution

Based on team’s advice, IKEA Romania management announced on 25th February that it was immediately withdrawing meatballs from sale as a precaution while waiting for the test results, even though there was no confirmation that they contained horse-meat.

The next day, IKEA’s global management withdrew meatballs from all countries suspected to be contaminated. By then, the local proactivity had been publicly appreciated.

The team developed messaging for each potential risk scenario and communicated promptly, openly and honestly with all media and employees, no matter how uncomfortable the questions became.

On 4 March, authorities confirmed that meatballs in the Romanian IKEA Restaurant were not contaminated with horse-meat.

The company ensured such a situation could never happen again by implementing a new verification system for all food suppliers, and reducing the supply chain.

The system was implemented fast and by April 3rd, meatballs were back on sale in the Romanian IKEA Restaurant.

Outcome

The team’s advice paid off and ensured IKEA’s biggest crisis in Romania was handled with transparency, honesty and care. The media responded by presenting balanced information, reassuring consumers after the initial panic, and even saluting IKEA’s decision to put meatballs back on sale.

Output

• 100% honest and rapid response to every media inquiry

• Only 10% negative news (vs. 15% anticipated)

Knowledge/ Consideration

• More than 80% of coverage included IKEA’s official position (vs. target 50%)

• 60%+ of media who wrote about the meatball withdrawal also wrote about them being horsemeat-free and back on sale (vs. target 50%)

• ‘IKEA is a company I trust’ indicator + 1% compared to prior to the crisis.

• ‘IKEA is warm and human’ indicator + 2% compared to prior to the crisis.

Business impact

Post-crisis sales of IKEA meatballs in Romania were not affected.

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