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Friday, May 04, 2007

Brand PR Failures: Farley’s infant milk

The salmonella incident

When the UK Central Public Health Laboratory made the connection between Farley’s infant milk and salmonella in 1985, the story made the headlines. The product was recalled immediately at a cost of £8 million. Farley’s parent company Glaxo Smith-Kline was forced to put Farley’s into liquidation and sold its two plants to high-street chemist Boots for £18 million.

Boots had an almost impossible task in rebuilding the brand, given the amount of negative media coverage it had suffered. After all, health scares are always damaging for brands, but health scares involving babies are, if anything, even more catastrophic.

Furthermore, while Farley’s had been off the shelves, its two main competitors – Cow & Gate and Wyeth – had stepped up their production leaving little room for Farley’s to squeeze back in. Although Boots ploughed millions into promoting and marketing Farley, the brand’s market share was never able to return to the levels it had reached before the salmonella incident. After years of persistence, eventually Boots sold the business to Heinz in 1994.

Lessons from Farley’s

  • Keep a look out for internal threats. The salmonella incident had been avoidable because it had been caused by an employee not following adequate procedures.
  • Remember that competitors will take advantage. After Farley’s products had been taken off the shelves, its main competitors seized the opportunity and made it harder for Farley’s to make a comeback.

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