Social Media Horse Sense: Nestlé Saddled With Unbridled Scandal

Candida McCollam Owner/Partner, Localspeak

Posted on March 13th 2013

Social Media Horse Sense: Nestlé Saddled With Unbridled Scandal

social media nestle   



Following the discovery of horse DNA in various processed meat offerings over the past few months, Nestlé—the world’s largest food company—now is experiencing a major reputation crisis surrounding the quality assurance practices of its brand meat products. Consumers across Europe are so enraged, they are foregoing Nestle brand lasagnas and raviolis and, instead, are purchasing meat and meat dish products from their local butcher, or discovering veggie options. 

 customer engagement

While Nestlé recalls its products testing positive for horse DNA—which health experts say is harmful owing to horses being injected with hormones, painkillers and antibiotics— the crisis now has spread to other food companies and even purveyors of processed meat meals, including Ikea’s famous meatball dish.  As global consumers continue to reel from the health risks exposed, some are opting to forsake all meat products in favor of other dietary regimens.

 social listening 

Since the meat scandal broke, Localspeak has been monitoring consumer sentiment daily through global social media alerts in NetBase, tracking several countries—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, UK and the US.  Despite the corporate crisis management of the scandal crisis, there aren’t many signs of consumer appeasement.  The resounding consumer message is recall and scandal, regardless of the language—even in countries with a culinary tradition of horsemeat dishes, like France, or in Germany, where horsemeat is used in Bratwurst.

best practices 


reputation management

Here is a snapshot of what consumer outrage over tainted food looks like on a social listening platform in different countries. 


Nestle could easily have mitigated the scandal rapidly spreading through Europe sooner, averting the extent of damage to its quality assurance reputation had it been utilizing a robust listening strategy.  For example, on a highly accurate listening platform like NetBase, the company would have seen the consumer sentiment spikes shown below, alongside a heightened emotional index—the emotive “temperature” of social conversations—across Europe.  These sentiment and passion index anomalies would have automatically triggered an alert sent to Nestle Quality Assurance. 

Nestle’s crisis containment over the past month has focused on product recalls, CEO apologies and PR dispatches on food safety—dismissing suppliers as culprits and perpetrators of fraud and mislabeling.  However, the fast spreading social media crisis appears to have gone beyond this one-time product recall event.  The horse DNA fiasco shows increasing signs of the Nestlé brand image being further tainted, as consumers lose trust in the food giant.  Further evidence also emerged last week that the powerful equine painkiller called phenylbutazone — called bute, for short — may have entered the food chain, too, which now is exacerbating the food safety crisis. Nestlé’s latest food contamination scare comes on the heels of its recall of ingredients contained in its chocolate powder Nesquik—suspected of containing salmonella—just last November. 

The key to sustaining consumer loyalty lies not in an opportunistic, albeit sophisticated crisis management machine, but rather in nurturing consumer loyalty through global listening—before the horse is out of the gate.

And all this, my friends and colleagues, comes straight from the horse’s mouth.


Candida McCollam

Owner/Partner, Localspeak

Global social media analyst, research strategist and localization expert. Delivers global social media brand audits, analytics, brand innovation, media tracking. NetBase partner, leverages award-winning NLP platform Insight Composer to deliver global brand insights and analytics in 40 languages. Yogini, linguaphile, passionate about global cultural research, social brand innovation, competitive positioning, social analytics.

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Posted on March 14th 2013 at 3:46AM

If I were a betting person, which I am, I would bet that in 6 months at the latest, Nestle's market share in all it's products will be exactly where it is now or would have been had this horse-meat thing not happened.In spite of the omnipresent dire predictions of how brands can be destroyed by one small misstep on Social Media, the fact is that there is no example of a major brand actually being hurt by negative SM activity.

Seb Petersen
Posted on March 17th 2013 at 2:54PM

Hi Candida,

I don't dispute your point that there should be a robust listening strategy, there definitely should be, & I would be very surprised if Nestlé don't have this in place (especially given their previous experience with social media consumer activism). But just listening isn't enough to avert the crisis - there needs to be action to reverse negative sentiment. You list what they have done, but it's clearly not enough. This is the danger of social media, that once something starts it is very difficult to contain it.

I would be interested to hear what you think should/could have been done differently from a damage limitation/correction perspective?