Page 1: Introduction
Bernard Matthews is the largest turkey producer in the UK. The business has grown substantially since its relatively humble origins in 1950, when Bernard Matthews bought 20 turkey eggs and a secondhand incubator. 12 turkeys successfully hatched from this initial batch and before long, the young entrepreneur was able to give up his insurance job and concentrate full-time on rearing turkeys.
Today, Bernard Matthews rears over seven million turkeys every year. 13 million UK households buy a Bernard Matthews Farms branded product each year. Despite the size of its operations, the company remains close to its roots in East Anglia with its farms located across Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire. Bernard Matthews’ vision is ‘to make turkey the preferred choice of protein for every day and every occasion’.
Bernard Matthews operates in a competitive and fast-changing environment. Consumers are faced with a huge choice of foods to suit different lifestyles, diets and tastes. However, in recent years, buying patterns have changed as consumers have become more concerned about healthy eating, food safety and animal welfare.
Chance events can have a significant impact on a food business. For example, Jamie Oliver’s high-profile campaign in 2005 to improve the quality of school meals singled out foods such as Bernard Matthews’ Turkey Twizzlers as being unhealthy. In 2007, there was an outbreak of bird flu at a Bernard Matthews farm in Suffolk. At this time, the media also discovered that the company imported some of its turkey from abroad. The press published stories that this could have been directly related to the outbreak, a theory that was never proved.
Initially, Bernard Matthews did not speak up and defend its product range, which offered affordable, tasty and convenient food for everyday working mums. This resulted in adverse press coverage and the company lost credibility with the media. When bird flu hit, relations with the media were at an all-time low. The company's immediate reaction to the crisis was to focus on eliminating the disease, which it did successfully.
Communications came low on the list of priorities. This meant that the resulting information 'vacuum' was soon filled with damaging and often inaccurate news reports.
When the company realised the extent of the damage and finally opened up to the press it was too little, too late, as all trust had been lost. As a result, Bernard Matthews’ sales in the UK fell by 35% and the company went into a loss position.
In 2008, the company implemented a business turnaround programme. From a communications perspective this involved:
- more closely monitoring the changing environment in which the company operates
- understanding the customers’ needs better
- communicating in a transparent manner with all stakeholdersto rebuild trust in the company.
This case study explores how Bernard Matthews has addressed the challenges of communicating with its customers and other important stakeholders.