While New Zealand dairy giant Fonterra is working overtime to restore its damaged brand in the wake of a contaminated baby milk scare that triggered a global recall, local distributors whose products included the suspect ingredient are defending their own reputations.
Dairy giant Fonterra announced in early August that a whey protein concentrate sold to certain producers of baby milk may be contaminated with bacteria that can cause botulism, a potentially paralytic and fatal illness.
The announcement created nervousness worldwide as producers of baby milk scrambled to retrace their distribution and withdraw products made with the Fonterra ingredient.
Local supplier Dumex Cambodia withdrew thousands of cartons of its baby milk from circulation and had them destroyed as a “precaution”. In a 20-day recall campaign, Dumex set up a 24-hour hotline and placed advertisements in local newspapers to reassure consumers of the safety of its products.
“The decision to recall products as a precaution was based on the information supplied at the time by Fonterra. [Safety is] and always will be our number one priority and something on which we will never compromise,” said Kong Bo, country manager of Dumex Cambodia in a statement released last week.
New Zealand government testing has since cleared the ingredient of any food-safety risk, but consumer confidence in Fonterra has been fractured, and executives have been on the offensive to win back trust.
Fonterra recently announced that it would appoint a food safety director, and vowed to strengthen its recall process, Bloomberg reported last week. A similar campaign is occurring locally, too. After the recall, Dumex continued its efforts, releasing a series of additional newspaper advertisements and holding a press conference reassuring consumers that the “precautionary” process was now complete.
“Dumex Cambodia is now more determined than ever to give mums an even greater peace of mind and to continue being an industry leader in developing new safety and quality standards. That’s our uncompromising pledge to parents and babies,” said Bo, Dumex country manager.
Lingering consumer concern yesterday showed that Dumex was not unjustified in its damage-control blitz.
“Some people ask questions about problems with the brand,” said Yong Srey Ny, a shop attendant at Baby Care on Street 51. “I just tell them, no problem.” But despite her assurances, Srey Ny said she had still noticed people switching brands.
Dumex isn’t the only one taking charge. Official “laboratory tested” declarations accompanied Physiolac, a non-recalled brand in Srey Ny’s store, suggesting fears of damage through association.
The statement certified that Physiolac formula did not “contain any whey powder or any other ingredient sourced from the New Zealand company Fonterra.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAURA MA