Peter Pan peanut butter will return to stores this month with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee as ConAgra Foods seeks to reassure customers it has fixed the problems that allowed salmonella to contaminate the product.
ConAgra Foods announced a nationwide recall in February after federal health officials linked its peanut butter to a salmonella infection that sickened at least 625 people in 47 states, including West Virginia.
David Palfenier, president of ConAgra's grocery division, said the level of consumer and retailer demand for Peter Pan makes him optimistic the company will be able to restore annual sales to pre-recall levels of about $150 million sooner than expected. The first shipments go out next week.
"We're going to be hitting them from all sides," Palfenier said.
Everyone who contacted ConAgra during the recall, including those who became ill after eating Peter Pan, will receive coupons for a free jar of the peanut butter, Palfenier said.
"We are obviously deeply concerned for those consumers who were affected by Peter Pan and (we) are taking, I'd say, extraordinary efforts to make that right," Palfenier said.
The company has to find ways to reassure customers that Peter Pan is safe without reminding them why the brand hasn't been available since February, said DePaul University marketing professor Joe Marconi, author of "Crisis Marketing: When Bad Things Happen to Good Companies."
"The best strategy to take would be to focus on their plans for the future," Marconi said.
Back-to-school season is a good time to be marketing peanut butter, he said.
Government investigators linked the outbreak to ConAgra's Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter produced at a Georgia plant. The plant was remodeled to provide greater separation between raw peanuts and the finished product.
The company also promised to develop a new testing plan for the plant to ensure that its peanut butter is safe and that the company would detect any future contamination.
ConAgra faces several lawsuits filed by people who say they became ill after eating Peter Pan.
The company says the top 30 Peter Pan grocery retailers have pledged to resume selling it.
Bag 'N Save grocery stores will stock Peter Pan again once it is available, said Roger Grohmann, director of procurement for the Omaha-based chain.
Grohmann said he doesn't have any qualms about putting Peter Pan back on the shelves because ConAgra has assured him the problems that led to the salmonella contamination have been fixed.
But ConAgra must convince consumers the product is safe.
"It's ConAgra's responsibility to earn back its share of the business," Grohmann said.
Palfenier said the company will begin shipping peanut butter to retailers on Monday. When the product is available in stores nationwide will depend on the speed of each retailer's distribution system, he said.
ConAgra fell 10 cents to $26.35 midday Wednesday.
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