Summiting Mt. Quality

The trek to the Summit of Mt. Quality for many in the food industry is a lot like a hiker’s quest up Mt. Everest. The trick for the food company, however, is to stay on top because descending can be devastating. From Camp Product Concept to Communicate-Cooperate Junction through QA Manager Pass, the journey is challenging and it will take as much acclimatization as it does preparation to see you past the awaiting avalanches and the threat of exposure in order to reach Preparedness Plateau and, finally, the Summit.

HIGH IN THE HEAVENS, atop the 29,000-foot summit of Mt. Everest, the world is seen from a different perspective, and those who get there are both driven as well as humbled by what it took to conquer it. The various paths to the top present ever-changing sets of challenges, for each year geological energies force Mt. Everest to rise, and its bipolar disposition often hands down avalanches, the number one cause of death. Bitterly fluctuating weather adds exposure into the mix.

The journey up this Nepalese slope also tests psyches, for those who ascend may see some of the 120 corpses that Everest has claimed and feel the air thinning with every step they take on trails where many things can happen.

Such are the paths that many in the food industry endure as they continually ascend the rising summit of Mount Quality, where descending can be devastating and is definitely not an option.

The avalanches and volatile weather on Mt. Quality are different in nature from Everest’s and come in the form from everything from a severed finger in a bowl of chili to looming terrorist threats to tough consumer demands to major departmental reorganizations. Let’s also not forget the omnipresent threats of foodborne illness outbreaks and subsequent product recalls that can also come with the territory.

Hikers often make their ways from Everest’s base camp to the treacherous icefall to four camps, the last of which is called “the death zone,” before reaching the summit. The trek for a food company, especially one in crisis, can follow a similar path and embarking on the journey requires the same degree of preparation should the conditions turn treacherous.

“Any business, whether it’s us or any industry, is so fragile that it just takes one incident, even this one which is a fraud, to cause real havoc for six weeks,” Jack Schuessler, CEO of Wendy’s International, Inc., said in an interview, amid the chili-fingertip hoax. “And the lesson is you’ve got to be on your guard, but even with that, this thing is so fragile that one has to be able to respond. One has to have a set of core values in order to respond, because there is not a playbook that has been written for events like these.”

Surviving the Chili Finger Avalanche

Schuessler is speaking from profound experience, for all it took to trigger an avalanche was a severed, 1.5-inch fingertip. It happened in March at a Wendy’s restaurant in San Jose, Calif., and the effect reverberated violently at the Dublin, Ohio-based firm, which operates more than 9,700 restaurants worldwide.

While a husband and wife team is charged in the grand theft plot to create a lawsuit against Wendy’s for allegedly purchasing a severed finger and placing it in a bowl of chili, the quick-service chain is making great strides on the vindication path.

News of the incident was like a crevasse opening underfoot, and Wendy’s lost about $15 million in sales from March 23 through the end of April as police worked quickly to determine what happened.

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