Disgusting. That’s what everyone thought when they first heard about the saga of the cinnamon-and-sugar encrusted shrimp tail found in a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The gross object was tweeted by Los Angeles-based writer Jensen Karp, who said he found pieces of a crustacean in his cereal earlier this week. His thousands of followers responded — and so did Cinnamon Toast Crunch.
The back-and-forth quickly devolved into chaos. The cereal brand owned by General Mills responded via Twitter to Karp, saying that the shrimp-tail-like objects weren’t seafood, but an “accumulation of the cinnamon sugar that sometimes can occur when ingredients aren’t thoroughly blended.” It added: “We assure you that there’s no possibility of cross contamination with shrimp.”
Admittedly, it’s a silly story. But for Tom Meyvis, a professor of marketing and consumer behavior at New York University’s Stern School of Business, there’s a lesson to be learned here.
Meyvis said the discovery is gross — and that’s “very dangerous for food brands.” However, how Cinnamon Toast Crunch responded was even worse, he said.
Karp later tweeted an exchange of Twitter private messages appearing to come from the company asking him to send the product back to them — something he originally said he did not want to do as he felt the company’s response saying it was sugar made him “look insane” — as well as a followup email exchange asking him to bring it to local law enforcement if he didn’t want to send it back. (He eventually agreed to ship the box back to General Mills (GIS) for testing.)
“It’s a bad idea not to give customers the benefit of the doubt and you shouldn’t go around accusing them,” Meyvis told CNN Business. He chided the company for the “discrepancy” between the public message sent on the cereal brand’s Twitter account to the private message sent to Karp.
Meyvis said that the company “should’ve taken this seriously right away” and in doing so would have avoided this situation from making headlines and capturing the internet’s attention.
“You can’t turn this into a positive and you can’t build brand awareness of this in a good way,” he said. “Because it is a food product associated with disgust, I don’t think there’s a way to turn this into a positive.”
As for General Mills, it said in a statement to CNN Business it can say “with confidence that this did not occur at our facility,”
“We are waiting for the consumer to send us the package to investigate further,” a company spokesperson said, “Any consumers who notice their cereal box or bag has been tampered with, such as the clear tape that was found in this case, should contact us.”
That response didn’t satisfy Karp, who’s the husband of “Boy Meets World” star Danielle Fishel. He tweeted that they are “cinnamon coated SHRIMP TAILS, you weirdos” and said the company was trying to gaslight him.
He also lambasted the company for assuming it was sugar, rather investigating it.
“It’s a deadly allergy to many (and non-Kosher) and that didn’t seem to matter beyond offering me a new box,” Karp tweeted.