‘Pink Slime’ Makers Fight PR Firestorm with Fire

The prevailing corporate crisis response wisdom these days is for PR to state at the outset of a crisis, “We’re are investigating the situation and are working toward a satisfactory resolution,” or words to that effect.

Not so in the case of Beef Products Inc., the maker of “pink slime,” as it has become widely known by the public, or “lean, finely textured beef” as it is called by the company itself. On Monday, March 26, the company was in a fighting mood during a news conference that announced the temporary closing of several of its plants due to the public outcry about the product.

Because of the controversy over the safety of pink slime, Beef Products said that it was suspending all operations at three of its four plants in Texas, Kansas and Iowa. Its headquarters in Sioux City, S.D., would remain open. Company representatives added that if operations in the plants didn’t resume in 60 days, it would have no choice but to lay the employees off.

Regina Roth, executive VP at Beef Products, was in a particularly feisty mood during the news conference. "What should we label it? It's 100% beef," asked Roth during the conference. "What do you want us to label it? I'm not prepared to say it's not beef because it's 100% beef."

Two former scientists with the U.S. Department of Agriculture who reviewed the product advised against using it in ground beef and told ABC News that it was not the same as ground beef. Subsequently Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu and Food Lion announced that they would no longer carry the product because of consumer concerns. And public concern is growing.

The company went on to blame ABC News, other media outlets and social media for stoking the public’s negative views of the product. In fact, Roth said essentially that the company would fight fire with fire, launching a PR/social media campaign of its own to “attack the misconceptions in consumers’ minds.”

With such an aggressive strategy, will the blaze subside for Beef Products, or will it become an even bigger inferno? Only time will tell.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01