The agrifood sector needs to establish a rapid-response crisis management group to protect the reputation of New Zealand’s food products, says a communication expert from Massey University.
Dr Chris Galloway says the agrifood sector is “worth literally billions of dollars to the New Zealand economy” and the best way to minimise the impact of the next crisis is with a rapid and coordinated response between industry and government.
“In a situation like the Fonterra botulism scare you really need coordinated messaging and responses to avoid confusion and to show that you are on top of the situation,” Dr Galloway says.
“Agrifood – and New Zealand’s reputation for quality and safety – is too important to the wider economy for government to take a hands-off approach. Our reputation allows us to charge a premium in overseas markets, such as China. If that reputation is damaged it has a direct dollar consequence – and not just on the individual companies concerned.”
Dr Galloway says industry and government agencies like the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) do a good job, but past crises have shown coordination gaps in terms of messaging and the timing of announcements. He says the first step is to identify key stakeholders and do joint scenario planning.
“One of the things that really speeds things up in a crisis is pre-authorising people to make certain decisions without having to go up the organisational food chain. If you have a crisis management group that has run some scenarios and can agree on a response, they will deal with a live contamination threat much more efficiently – and that can really minimise reputational damage.”
Dr Galloway will discuss his ideas at the latest Big Issues in Business seminar, hosted by the Massey Business School. The event’s theme is ‘Safe food, safe business’ and Dr Galloway will be joined by MPI director-general Martyn Dunne and Jo Finer, director group regulatory, global brands and nutrition at Fonterra.
The three speakers will discuss strategies for managing reputational risk in the agrifood sector, including identifying potential threats, proactively managing risks and repairing a reputation after it’s been damaged.
Dr Galloway also believes a rapid-response team that meets regularly could share market intelligence about potential threats.
“Organisations individually scan for risks in their operating environment – but let’s have a way of bringing those insights together to help anticipate risks and formulate coordinated responses. We are too small a country, and the agrifood sector is too important, for national interest not to take priority over individual company interests.”
The seminar is being held on Thursday 4 June.