For Australian consumers who bought Patties brand Nanna’s and Creative Gourmet mixed frozen berries early last year, the risk of hepatitis A also allegedly came with the purchase. The berries were linked with 31 cases of this serious illness and the resulting product recall in February 2015 wiped more than AU$14 million from the annual profits of Patties Foods.
The Patties Foods berry scandal was a warning to all companies to pay closer attention to supply chain quality control. But it also highlighted the serious financial risks associated with product recalls and was a red flag for many companies to consider purchasing product recall insurance.
RECALLS ON THE RISE
The complexities of an increasingly global supply chain, coupled with a tightening of product safety regulations around the world are leading to a rise in product recalls.
In 2014, there were more than 500 product recalls in Australia and this year is already proving to be a busy one. In the first two weeks of 2016 hoverboards, dining chairs and motorcycles were being removed from sale due to dangerous potential faults.
In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported 803 separate vehicle recalls in 2014. In New Zealand, there were 27 food recalls in 2014 compared with 13 the year before. Companies in China carried out 72 consumer product recalls; however, its product recall system covers limited categories and is currently under review in order to enhance customer safety, China Daily says.
It’s not just the lesser-known brands that are suffering recall issues. Leading electrical goods company Samsung is tracking down 144,451 washing machines (with 45,047 currently unaccounted for) that have been responsible for 252 fires and other incidents in Australia since 2013. Supermarkets in New Zealand removed packets of Beehive Shaved Champagne Ham from their shelves in December 2015 over fears they could contain listeria. In the US and Canada, popular label Lululemon recalled 318,000 women’s tops in June 2015 as their elastic drawstrings were deemed at risk of causing harm to wearers. Meanwhile, Volkswagen’s recent and highly publicised recall and refit of 11 million cars worldwide will be among the biggest product recalls in history.
HOW PRODUCT RECALLS WORK
In most cases it is the supplier that initiates a recall (under Australian consumer law ‘suppliers’ include manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers). They are required to notify in writing the Commonwealth Minister responsible for consumer affairs within two days of initiating the recall. They must cease production and distribution and remove unsafe products from the marketplace. They are also required to notify the public through avenues such as advertising or social media announcements and to inform those within their domestic supply chainn some instances, product recalls are initiated by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
“The ACCC can either guide or attempt to convince a supplier that a recall would be desirable,” explains Kieran O’Brien, Partner with law firm DLA Piper. “Of course, there can be situations where the regulator says they are going to institute a direct mandatory recall. That’s rare, but it has the power to do so, and so it should because there can always be an organisation that just doesn’t listen.
“A manufacturer or supplier that allows matters to get to that stage clearly leaves itself open to sanctions down the track."
INSURANCE IN A RECALL CRISIS
For companies not large enough to self-insure, product recall insurance is increasingly viewed as a strategic purchase and a key feature of an overall risk management policy. While public liability insurance covers third-party losses arising from bodily injury or property damage, product recall insurance predominately covers a company’s own losses, including business interruption caused by reputational damage or the loss of gross profits, usually for a period of 12 months.
Product recall insurance also covers the cost of recalling products and may cover rehabilitation expenses, such as the advertising costs associated with restoring consumer confidence and the cost of promotional offers. In most instances, it also includes the cost of crisis consultants and public relations advisers to help mitigate reputational damage associated with product recalls.
Michael Lincoln, Underwriting Manager, Crisis Management Solutions at Liberty International Underwriters, says some product liability insurance products provide product recall extensions. However, he describes them as the “poor cousin” of market-leading Product Recall Insurance. “It may provide either first- or third-party recall costs, but does not cover what is commonly the most expensive parts of a recall, such as replacement costs and business interruption,” he says.
Tony Parington, Director and Underwriter at Sterling Insurance, says coverage largely depends on the circumstances surrounding a product recall. “You have to look at the trigger,” he says. “Imagine if you were to produce bottled water and it’s perfectly safe but the colour of the water was not the prettiest. You want to distribute it all over town but you realise that no one is going to buy it because of the colour. In that scenario, if that water cannot harm anyone and it’s just an aesthetic thing, there’s no claim. That’s a commercial loss to your business.”
ANALYSING THE RISK
Product recall is a risk faced by any company that manufactures, imports or distributes consumable or non-consumable goods. Jae Ramsbotham, Senior Underwriter Crisis Management at AIG, says analysing this risk is a significant task for underwriters. “We need to thoroughly analyse the company’s operations and processes and the exposures pertinent to the industry,” she says.
In assessing the risk, an underwriter generally seeks evidence of a company’s quality assurance programs, including food and site security measures. They will also request documents such as food safety audit reports, recall and business continuity plans and supplier or manufacturer contractual agreements.
“We would then work with the client’s insurance broker to establisha tailored policy that meets the needs of the clients based on the information provided,” says Jae. “An underwriter is charged with finding the very tight balance between client satisfaction, coverage, premium cost and commercially viable terms for all.”
Some product lines are considered high risk. Tony says dairy products often present red flags. “Cheese and dairy products often have a lot of claims and that’s just the nature of the beast,” he says. “You can always argue that there’s never going to be enough premium pool to pay for those claims.”
In some instances, products are simply too difficult to insure for recall. “We get people coming to us [for recall insurance] for building products,” says Tony. “It could be a bolt or a screw that’s used in trucks. The problem in that scenario is how do you recall it? You can only trace it to a certain point.”Tony adds that individual and cites the pigment used to colour red lipsticks, which is often made from crushed cochineal bugs. “If you have that as an ingredient and it was somehow contaminated, how do you recall all of those products?”
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Insurers stress that clients should inform them as soon as possible in the event of a product recall. “The adverse media coverage that may follow even a single product recall incident poses a significant threat to consumer confidence, hard-won retail space, important contracts, market share and brand credibility,” says Jae.
“Zero risk does not exist,” she adds. “Even the best risk management programs may reduce the likelihood of an incident but do not completely eliminate risk. Accidents do happen and when they occur a company has to be able to manage the consequences.”
SHOULD PRODUCT RECALL INSURANCE BE MANDATORY?
Between 2010 and 2013, up to 40,000 homes across Australia were wired with 4,000km of substandard electrical cables sourced from Infinity Cable Company. With insufficient plastic insulation, the cables are expected to become prematurely brittle, leading to fire and electrocution hazards.
In August 2014, the Infinity cables were recalled by 18 electrical retailers and wholesalers due to safety concerns.
Suresh Manickam, CEO of the National Electrical and Communications Association, says he would like to see an industry push for recall insurance to be a mandatory requirement for wholesalers and distributors in order to protect both contractors and consumers.
“It’s pertinent in our industry because faulty products have the propensity to kill,” he says. “While mandatory recall insurance would certainly address the symptoms, we also need to tackle the root of the problem, which is that products are coming into the country that are not up to Australian standards.
”The owner of Infinity Cable Company currently faces a criminal charge and the company is in liquidation. Meanwhile, the recall is estimated to have cost AU$80 million.