Bisphenol A (BPA) is back in the news. This time, it’s the General Mills brand Progresso coming under fire for using the chemical as an acid-resistant sealant in the lining of its metal soup cans. Despite a mountain of scientific evidence that BPA is harmless in the amounts found in food packaging, more than a few Progresso customers are demanding the brand discontinue its use of BPA and find other alternatives to preserve its products and maintain nutritional quality.
On Progresso’s Facebook page – which is 213,000 “likes” strong – and via a consumer petition circulated being circulated online, consumers are voicing frustration with the brand in increasing numbers. They are concerned about sensational reports that BPA can leak into water and food and cause a host of serious health problems.
It doesn’t really matter that the science doesn’t actually support a ban on BPA. When it comes to the safety of the food they put on their tables, American families don’t pay much attention to what the guys in white lab coats say. Instead, they respond emotionally, taking steps to limit risks, no matter how insignificant they might be.
That’s undoubtedly why Campbell’s Soup made the decision to go BPA-free earlier this year and countless other brands of canned foods have previously done the same. It’s certainly why Beef Products Inc. had to shut down two-thirds of its plants after parents campaigned against the use of ammoniated “pink slime” in school lunch hamburgers – even though the fine-textured beef had had doubtless prevented thousands of cases of foodborne illness.
Consumer emotion is also why Progresso probably will have no choice but to follow suit. Fear – now jet-fueled by the Internet – represents one of the most powerful motivators in the marketplace. When fear attaches itself to a brand – rightly or wrongly – a company’s best course is to do is whatever it takes to assuage anxiety and demonstrate that consumers come first.
Gene Grabowski is Executive Vice President at LEVICK, the nation’s top crisis communications firm. He is also a contributing author to LEVICK Daily. Connect with him @crisisguru.