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When Jeni’s Reopens, I’ll Be There. Here’s Why…

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jenis CPT ethics blog

Have you ever read a press release that made you want to stand up and start a slow clap? I certainly haven’t…until now.

As you may have heard, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams temporarily shut down their operations, after learning that some of their products may be contaminated with Listeria. I’m not a huge ice cream fan, but I’ll be giving them my business once they re-open, and here’s why:

Jeni’s had an important decision to make once they learned some of their products were contaminated. They could have:

  1. Swept it under the rug and continued with business as usual.
  2. Thrown away the small, contaminated portion and posted a disclaimer.
  3. Issued a massive recall, destroyed all of their inventory and lost millions of dollars.

They chose option 3, and I believe it was the right call. Would you have done the same?

Below, I have highlighted some excerpts from Jeni’s April 28 press release, provided some commentary about their website and explained why I’ll be a customer when they reopen.

Jeni’s is Being Upfront and Direct

When I heard about the recall, I immediately went to Jeni’s website. I saw the recall announcement on the front page. That was the only thing I saw. The announcement wasn’t buried in a press release or sandwiched between distracting photos or videos. It was there, alone, as the only item on their homepage. All website visitors were informed about the situation, as soon as they visited the site.

Jeni’s Clearly Explained Their Corrective Actions

The press release began with a clear outline of the steps being taken to correct the problem and prevent customers from being harmed.

“We are destroying more than 535,000 pounds (265 tons) of ice cream. That is 15 semi-truck loads or 300 pallets. We estimate that this recall will cost the company more than $2.5 million.”

Their willingness to destroy this much inventory indicates they value the safety of their customers and the integrity of their ice cream, more than they value profits. I believe decisions like this will actually increase their profits in the long run, but unethical leaders will sometimes cover up these types of incidents to prevent short-term revenue loss.

The drastic action to destroy all existing products tells me that Jeni’s is not willing to take any chances with my safety.

Jeni’s Protected Me from Me

Jeni’s only found evidence of contamination in one or two flavors. They could have easily issued a written disclaimer to protect themselves from legal action. However, they were more concerned with customer safety than legal ramifications.

“We have been reluctant to release the specific flavor and batch number of the pint, only because we did not want people to wrongly assume Listeria is not present in other flavors and batches…So let me be unmistakably clear: no one should be eating any of Jeni’s frozen products.”

When recalls are issued our natural inclination is to see if it applies to the batch we bought. I don’t want to waste $5, or more, of perfectly good food if I don’t have to. But Jeni’s tapped into the minds of their customers and sought to protect those who might have been planning to keep their existing ice cream.

It is incredible that a company would issue a statement proclaiming that no one should eat their product. Yet, Jeni’s believes it is more important to ensure the safety of customers, than to protect their reputation or the fear associated with their warning.

Despite the best safeguards and protective measures, ethical leaders can’t always prevent bad things from happening within their organizations. They can, however, control their response to the problem, once they become aware it exists.

I don’t have all the details about the internal discussions of Jeni’s leadership group, but based on the actions I’ve seen so far, Jeni’s just turned this non-ice cream fan into a lifelong customer and promoter.

Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

– Ryan W. Hirsch
Program Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT)

For more insight on how to handle these types of situations, checkout this article from CPT Life Director, Larry Bridgesmith: Bitter Pill? Lessons from Tylenol and Blue Bell