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Trader Joe’s email exchange

From: “Charles Margulis”

Date: February 22, 2010 8:11:40 PM EST

To: “Dan Bane” <dbane@traderjoes.com>

Cc: “Cara Yokomizo” <CYokomizo@traderjoes.com>, “Steven Hamilton” <shamilton@traderjoes.com>, “Chuck Pilliter” <cPilliter@traderjoes.com>

Subject: Granola bar recall

 Dear Mr. Bane,

I was glad to see that your company is taking quick action in the recent recall of the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Chip Chewy Coated Granola Bars.

However, I am alarmed that the signage in three Trader Joe’s stores in my area does not adequately inform consumers of the danger posed by the product. The signs in the stores (and the notice on your website at http://www.traderjoes.com/static/action_issues.asp#ChocChipGranolaBar ) state only that the bars pose a risk of an unspecified “serious food-borne illness.”

But in the February 10 company press release (http://www.fda.gov/Safety/Recalls/UCM200250 , from the FDA website), Trader Joe’s fully acknowledges that the bars pose a risk of salmonella infection.

Customers are most likely to see this information first at the store, where I first saw it. Since the store signs give incomplete information, consumers who do not search further will not have adequate information for their physicians, should they need to seek treatment. In the case of a sick child (or an elderly person or anyone with a compromised immune system), complete information can make the difference between life and death.

Those who are affected by the recall should not have to search for full information. Since the Trader Joes press release properly reports the nature of the food-borne illness, I suspect the problem with the store signs is merely an oversight, and not an attempt to mislead consumers. I hope this oversight is corrected immediately. It would be tragic if your failure to provide full information results in any unnecessary suffering for those affected by this product.

Consumers must be completely informed about this recall with proper notices available in plain sight at the stores. I have asked the stores in my area to replace the current sign with your company press release immediately. I suspect this step needs to be taken at your stores throughout the country.

Please inform me as soon as you have fully resolved this situation. Many thanks for your prompt attention.

Charles Margulis

 From: Matt Sloan [msloan@traderjoes.com]

Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 9:23 AM

To: Charles Margulis

Subject: RE: Granola bar recall

Dear Mr. Margulis,

Thank you for your inquiry and for taking the time to pass along your thoughts on this important matter.

When developing communication pieces to our customers and crew on issues like product recalls, clarity is of paramount importance.  I feel the signs currently posted in our stores regarding the Chocolate Chip Granola Bar recall effectively present a clear and concise message—one that can be immediately understood by a broad range of people.  (A copy of the sign is attached for reference, and a link to the message is on the homepage of our website.)  For customers with further questions or concerns, our store personnel are available and the sign lists our Customer Relations phone number. 

As a product under FDA regulation, this item’s recall was handled in accordance with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  The relevant excerpt from the code is below for review. (at this point he inserted a long and irrelevant passage from the FDA regulations, available for those interested at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/cfr_2003/aprqtr/pdf/21cfr7.50.pdf )

I take issue with the suggestion that anything about our work on this matter was done to “attempt to mislead consumers.”  That is not the case and I feel the ways in which we’ve approached the communication of this important information convey our intent of protecting the well-being of our customers.  We’ve taken it upon ourselves—without any specific guidance from the FDA, to post signs in our stores.  Technically speaking, this is not a requirement.

We take food safety seriously.  When we were first alerted by our supplier of possible problems with two, specific code-dates/lot codes of the Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, our stores were instructed to remove from sale and destroy all code-dates/lot codes of the item to be certain there was no chance of further distributing product in question.

We are always looking for ways to do what we do better than we’ve done it before, and the points you’ve raised help us understand how our communication work is perceived.

Thank you for your consideration and please ask any questions you have.

Sincerely,

-Matt

Matt Sloan

VP of Marketing

Trader Joe’s

626.599.2813

 

From: Charles Margulis

Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 9:39 AM

To: Matt Sloan

Cc: dbane@traderjoes.com; CYokomizo@traderjoes.com; shamilton@traderjoes.com; cPilliter@traderjoes.com

Subject: RE: Granola bar recall

Hi Matt-

thanks for your reply. I do not dispute that the signs are clear or understandable; but this does not change the fact that the information they contain is incomplete. Since your company press release presents the complete information, I do not understand why you would hesitate to provide the complete information (simply by inserting the word “salmonella” preceding the phrase “a serious food-borne illness”) to consumers at the store, where they are most likely to see it. I expect it would take store managers about 5 minutes to make the correction, once instructed to do so. Can you tell me what the barrier is to making the correction?

I did not suggest that your intent was to mislead consumers – in my note I clearly state that I believe this was not the case, and that the failure to properly inform consumers was an oversight. I find your resistance to correcting this oversight deeply disturbing, given the potential health implications for consumers of a product that is primarily marketed to young children (I see many two year olds and younger kids at my daughter’s daycare eating granola bars daily).

I hope you do not delay further in correcting this situation.

charles margulis

From: Matt Sloan [msloan@traderjoes.com]

Sent: Tuesday, February 23, 2010 4:28 PM

To: Charles Margulis

Cc: Dan Bane; Cara Yokomizo; Steven Hamilton; Chuck Pilliter

Subject: RE: Granola bar recall

Hello, Charles.

Again, thank you for your time on the phone earlier today.

While we stand by the language used for signs currently up in our stores, the points you raise are well taken and our Product Steering Committee has taken the matter under advisement for future communication work.

Again, I appreciate your taking the time to convey your concerns.

-Matt

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