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Battling Mosquitoes With Bullets: The Curious Case of Nagiko Tomato Mix Paste’s PR Disaster

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Mosquitoes, those tiny irritants that can get under our skin both literally and metaphorically, have been a perpetual menace throughout time. Beyond their itchy bites, these insects have carried deadly diseases like malaria, dengue, and yellow fever, causing millions of deaths and hundreds of millions of cases each year. Even less-known diseases like lymphatic filariasis and Japanese encephalitis, affecting up to 500 million people annually, find their vector in mosquitoes. But imagine taking a gun to eliminate these pesky insects – it’s almost as baffling as the curious case between Chioma Egodi Jnr and Nagiko Tomato Mix Paste, a product by Erisco Food Limited.

What had started as an innocuous post on Facebook for Chioma is fast becoming a nightmare for her and an embarrassing crisis management gaffe for the tomato mix paste brand.

Tasted like Sugar!

Chioma had taken to Facebook to share her thoughts on the brand of tomato paste. She complained that the product contained too much sugar, and suggested it might be harmful to people. “I went to but Tin tomatoes yesterday that I will use to make stew. I didn’t see Gino and Sonia, so I decided to buy this one. When I opened it, I decided to taste it, omo! Sugar is just too much! Haaa, biko, let me know if you have used this Tin tomato before because this is an ike gwuru situation!” she posted.

In a swift reaction to the post, manufacturers of the brand released a press statement on this and allegedly had her arrested and she has since been transferred to the police headquarters in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.

We will take all necessary actions against any malicious attack on our reputation”

In the widely circulated statement, the company wrote: “The attention of Erisco Foods Limited has been drawn to a Facebook post by one Chioma Egodi Jnr. on September 17, 2023, alleging that Nagiko Tomato Mix, one of the three tomato paste variants of Erisco Foods Limited, contains an unhealthy amount of sugar and therefore not fit for human consumption.

“While this claim is untrue and unfounded in its entirety, we wish to put on record that Erisco Foods Limited from inception is built on the vision and mission to manufacture and promote healthy, wholly Made-in-Nigeria tomato products with the commitment to feeding not only Nigerians but also Africans with healthy foods.

“Our initial reaction was to ignore and disregard the post which was obviously intended to mislead our esteemed customers and discredit the image of Erisco Foods Limited, as previously instigated by some elements and syndicates who are uncomfortable with our increasing market dominance as a leading indigenous manufacturer of 100% natural tomato pastes. Considering, however, that Erisco Foods Limited has built a reputation as a credible organization committed to due process and the good of humanity, we have decided to bring the said publication to the attention of relevant authorities.”

It added, “While we recognize the rights of our consumers to make genuine observations about our products, we want to thank our esteemed customers for their continued patronage of Erisco Foods Limited. However, having built our reputation on healthy and quality products which have earned us both local and international awards including National Productivity Order of Merit Award, we will take all necessary actions against any malicious attack on our reputation,” it warned.

Also reacting to the public outcry on the situation on Arise News, in a right to rebuttal, Eric Umeofia, Founder and President of Erisco Foods revealed that he had to petition the Inspector General of Police following the post by Chioma on Facebook. Revealing that he understands that consumers have right, he reiterated that he is also a Nigerian with rights and actions of consumers like Chioma are frustrating indigenous manufacturers.

“It was within her right to make a social review”

As expected, reactions have trailed this development with more and more people across social media and the reputation management ecosystem airing their opinion on the matter. Analysing the situation, Abdul Mahmud, a lawyer, social critic and human rights advocate took to Twitter to break down the issue at play like this: “It is within Chioma’s right to have tweeted what has become an aspect of the emerging social proof of products reviews. After all, as an aspect of this social proof, products manufacturers also push products testimonials into the public space. Nobody arrests them in cases where the social proofs are lies.

“It is wrong, utterly wrong, of the police to graft itself into what is in all material particular NOT a crime. The practice of the police jumping into matters that are chiefly civil and commercial is wrong. In this particular matter, the police ought to have referred the complaint to products and consumer regulatory authorities to deal with it.

“This anti-social media culture that the police are promoting is dangerous to the flourish of free speech in a democracy. Today, any post on social media is immediately considered by our police apparatchiks as unhealthy to the nation-state. A simple complaint that should be dealt with through the civil remedy of defamation is done away with; and the police graft itself as an instrument to protect people of power. But its personnel tell us they have no stake on such matters, when clearly they interview citizens complained against under CAUTION- which technically means that they elicit statements from citizens who are under arrest for civil matters.

“Chioma hasn’t committed any offence known to a written law and the police should release her forthwith,” he opined.

In her opinion piece titled “So you can be Arrested by a Tomato?” in the Punch Newspaper, Abimbola Adelakun wrote, “Briefly setting aside the very troublesome fact that someone could be arrested over a review of a product, you must wonder why the company marketing the product, would meet a review of their product with such imperiousness.

“If they failed at managing a simple situation like responding to a product review tactfully, then we must also worry about the quality control of their production process. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control should probably investigate them because the truth does not need that amount of high-handedness to be defended,” she observed.

Giving an analysis of the situation, she added, “In this age of online marketing and social media networks, businesses contend with subjective consumer tastes in ways they probably could not have imagined decades ago. We live in times when almost everything (and everyone) has become a product and consuming them warrants feedback. There is no escaping the tyranny of public judgment. Even religious organisations are now regularly dragged to consumer review websites to be reviewed. People will scrutinise based on other people’s momentary feelings, and unfortunately, the most brutal opinion will stay permanently online. Anyone and anything can be hurt by public opinion. Whether or not the intentions were malicious, mischievous, or an expression of the reviewer’s sincere thoughts, we all live with this vulnerability.”

“It is wrong, utterly wrong, of the police to graft itself into what is in all material particular NOT a crime.

On PR Hub, an online platform for foremost public relations professionals and experts on the continent, some experts have expressed their views on this as well. Adedolapo O’Fola wrote, “Looks like bringing a bazooka to a pillow fight. If Chioma’s claims are false, I’m sure her followers who have used the brand would have pointed it out in the comments. Even if it was an attempt at calumny, it would have ended right there. Also, her Call To Action wasn’t “stop using this brand”, it was “…let me know if you have used it before,” which could mean that she just made an observation.”

Another member of the platform, Ifeanyichukwu Nkume observed that instead of managing the situation, the team at Erisco basically escalated the situation to a crisis which was needless in an emotionally charged environment where the consumers are after and would drive a cancel culture against any seemingly bully action. “I don’t think the product team understands the potential level of degeneration this could lead to. I do hope that they have a crisis management team in place who they will listen to,” he wrote.

Reacting to the shared press release, Ndume noted,“Also it is important for business owners to sometimes take out emotions when reacting to a situation, the media release and response from Erisco had too many emotions of we don’t take nonsense.

Usman Imanah, a cross industry professional who has worked across financial services and FMCG, provides a practical view:I have experienced something like this with one of my products –a baby cereal. A mother bought a pack from a batch that we had recalled, and she made it her life mission to troll us on Facebook. I personally reached out to her, apologised and sent her a carton of the fresh batch. She was so happy that she made a video for us that we used as a Facebook ad.

“The point is, no company will produce perfect products 100% of the time. There will be defects and mistakes which will make customers unhappy and some will lash out. The mistake that brands make is to think that the ones that lash out are the problem – they are not. They are the most valuable assets because they have shown emotion. The same emotion that they have expressed as anger, can be turned into love and loyalty because there is a thin line between love and hate. The problems are the ones that don’t talk. They will quietly continue to tell people to avoid your brand.

What Erisco Foods should have done

It is cases like this that gave rise to the crises and reputation management. What should the management of Erisco brand have done? Imanah draws from experience: “The company should have invited that woman. Asked her to send the product, check if it is a faulty one and change it for her. It would have cost them far less. I am guessing that her claims are true. That is why they will go all out like that.

“Good PR would have been to take her on a factory tour, if she has a large following and use her to do a BTS content.”

Lekan Ishola, a perception management expert and Principal Consultant at Brand Communication Network also brings some perspective to the matter: In managing unfavourable customer reviews of products, it is important for the organisation to focus on maintaining a positive brand image and customer trust. Clear headed actions are required.

“Regularly monitor online review platforms, social media, and feedback channels to stay informed about negative reviews as soon as they are posted, respond quickly to negative reviews to show that you value customer feedback and are actively working to address concerns and customize your responses to each review. Acknowledge the customer’s specific issue and express empathy for their experience.”

He added that companies should encourage customers to contact their customer service team directly to resolve their issues privately, demonstrating a commitment to problem-solving, be transparent about any product issues and explain how you are actively working to resolve them. Share any relevant updates or improvements, share positive reviews and testimonials from satisfied customers to balance the negative feedback and show a broader perspective, utilize social media platforms to engage with customers and address concerns publicly while maintaining a professional and respectful tone, demonstrate a commitment to product quality by outlining measures you are taking to prevent similar issues in the future.”

He added, “When appropriate, offer solutions such as refunds, exchanges, or discounts to dissatisfied customers as a goodwill gesture and continuously analyze feedback to identify recurring issues and make necessary improvements to your products or services. Remember that managing unfavourable reviews is an ongoing process. Building and maintaining a positive reputation requires consistency, transparency, and a customer-centric approach,” he concluded.

As at the time of writing this, Chioma has reportedly been released from police detention while the President of Erisco Foods has just concluded an interview on TV on the issue. Instead of providing any form of hope, the media chat appears to have added more weight to the anchor dragging the company’s image down. Many analysts will readily agree that the whole fiasco is a textbook example of a crisis management disaster. Will the brand and by extension, the company take the lessons from this? Are there efforts in the works to deescalate the situation? Only time, that impartial judge of all things, can provide us with the answers.

2 Comments
  1. Gillian says

    Total disaster for the brand.. I have never used the brand but I wont ever make that mistake of using it..

  2. Sweet Nagiko says

    Erisco, “Look everyone, NAFDAC says we’re safe, see, she’s a liar. ” Q, “Okay, so how much sugar is in your product?” Erisco, “…………… It’s safe, go away, waaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” Q, “What a candya** little baby.”

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