Peanut-Butter Sales Volume Drops 13% in Four Weeks

Category Takes a Hit Despite No Relation to Recent Recall

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CHICAGO ( -- Peanut-butter sales volume plunged 13% during the four weeks ended Feb. 21, according to Nielsen, even though peanut butter was not involved in the recent recall involving several package foods. That's the lowest level since the company began tracking sales at U.S. food, drug and mass outlets three years ago, and the figure includes sales at consumer-foods behemoth Walmart.

Peanut butter: Tainted by association.
Peanut butter: Tainted by association. Credit: Newscom
The drop comes even though the much-publicized recall was for cookies, crackers and other products made with peanut paste, not peanut butter itself. It also came despite that several peanut-butter marketers took pains on their websites and communications to stress that peanut butter was not affected.

Attempts to distance brands from recall
"While most brands of peanut butter -- including the name brands that many consumers know and enjoy -- were not subject to recall, the coverage the outbreak received has caused consumers to exercise an abundance of caution with respect to buying this product," Todd Hale, senior VP-consumer and shopper insights at Nielsen, said in a statement.

Smuckers' Jif and ConAgra's Peter Pan have both attempted to distance themselves from the danger of salmonella, by way of press releases and statements on their respective websites. Both brands, in fact, repeatedly issued assurances that their products were safe. But the news cycle kept going, as more than 600 consumers were eventually infected, and about 3,000 products recalled. Beleaguered peanut farmers began a marketing push in New York's Grand Central Terminal last week, in an effort to stop the bleeding.

To suggest that leading peanut butter manufacturers could have handled the situation better, crisis expert Robbie Vorhaus said, is like saying you can stop a neighbor smoking from in bed. "Your house is on fire because your neighbor was smoking in bed and the fire department couldn't get there soon enough," he said. "This is the classic example of one bad apple spoils the whole bunch."

Taint by association
These days, Mr. Vorhaus said, consumers are too fixated on the economy to dig figure out which brands of peanut butter are safe. "Everybody is just going to say that 'I'm not going to eat peanut butter until it's safe.'"

In other words, peanut butter was tainted by association. "When people think peanuts, the first thing they think of is peanut butter," said Bill Schober, editorial director of the In-Store Marketing Institute. "Look at dog food two years ago. It was pretty limited, but it affected almost all pet-food sales. It doesn't take much."

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