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What School Districts Can Learn from Ice Cream Scare

June 8, 2015

Jeni's Ice Cream Case Study

A single pint of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams in Lincoln, Nebraska tested positive for listeria.  The company had a choice.  They could deal with the situation quietly — after all it was only one pint — or they could go public and see if a larger issue existed.  So on April 23 they recalled more than $2.5 million worth of products and closed all 21 of their scoop shops.  This move made national headlines.  It also earned them the trust and loyalty of millions of customers.  

For the 29 days that the company was shut down they received “love” notes from their loyal customers pledging their support of the company and promising to be back when the doors re-opened.  While the company may have lost a significant amount of money, it also gained a tremendous level of brand loyalty from its customers.

So what did Jeni’s do that made their customers love them in spite of the fact that listeria was present in their products?  First, they put their customer’s needs above the bottom line.  Jeni’s could have easily dealt with the single pint issue and moved on.  Instead they wanted to ensure the safety of all their customers.

Second, they communicated honestly and repeatedly.  There were regular posts about the progress of the situation on the company’s Facebook page and representatives said yes to dozens of interviews with media outlets. If they found a problem in one of their production lines they came clean and shared it with their customers first.  Then they continued to share updates as they made changes in their production lines, began making new products and even posted owner Jeni Britton Bauer taste testing the new ice cream herself.

Jeni’s took ownership of the issue and changed the story from testing positive for listeria to we care about our customers so much we are willing to eat more than $2.5 million in lost product just to make sure we are serving you the best ice cream we can.

These same principles of transparency and repeated honest communication are important for school districts as well.  During a crisis, parents and community members want to know that they can trust the decisions administrators and staff members making.  If there is a late day snow storm parents want to know why schools decided to send middle and high school kids home early but not elementary students.  Or if a staff member has stolen from the PTO bake sale, what is being done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Moments of crisis are unfortunate.  But they are going to happen and they need to be treated as an important opportunity for school districts to communicate with the public.  How you choose to communicate during a time of crisis goes a long way in building or destroying the trust and loyalty your parents and community members have in your schools.  The team at Allerton Hill has more than 75 years of experience in dealing with various school and community crisis’s and can help your team not only make it through the storm, but build your own brand in the process.

See Jeni’s Ice Cream’s communications in action on Facebook at

Photo: Taken from Jeni’s Ice Cream home page at

Posted in Community Outreach