Beyond Peter Pan: How ConAgra's Pot Pie Recall Bakes In Hard Lessons for Supply Chain Management

From peanut butter to bikes, product recalls are breaking records. Will your supply chain be ready when you have to run it backward in order to track, trace and collect a recalled product?

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“When we asked people who were sick, ‘Can you take out your jar and tell us the brand and lot code?’ says Anandi Sheth, a CDC doctor who investigated the outbreak, “we repeatedly saw Peter Pan and Great Value and lot code 2111.”

That’s the data string ConAgra’s uses to identify products made in Sylvester. For example, one bad batch was coded “21115055 00 1037A.” After the 2111, the 5 indicated 2005, the year made; 055 was Julian date, for the 55th day of the year; 1037 was military time; and A showed which production line within the factory.

How Recalls (and Peanut Butter) Stick

While Peter Pan returned to stores in time for back-to-school shopping in late August, and a new “Miss Georgia Peanut Festival” was crowned on schedule last month at the annual event ConAgra sponsors, the company predicts sales won’t return to pre-salmonella heights anytime soon.

ConAgra CFO André Hawaux told financial analysts in June that peanut butter “will be a lower profit contributor” next year, even compared with this troubled year’s figure. That’s “due to relaunch investments and lower [sales] volume planned,” he said.

Lawsuits abound. Parents are suing on behalf of their children; a prisoner in upstate New York serving 12 years for manslaughter got sick and he’s suing, too. In another suit, a man says his wife, after eating Peter Pan, had to have her gallbladder removed, which meant he subsequently “suffered the loss of spousal and other services commonly provided by his wife.”

Sixty-seven cases, including that of Hein, the Iowa mom, were consolidated in Julyin U.S. District Court in Atlanta, accusing the company of, among other charges, negligence and liability for product defects. ConAgra has denied all charges.

Hein and her children have recovered, but they no longer eat Peter Pan.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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