The major South Island meat works cooperative PPCS (now Silver Fern Farms) was in the process of a takeover of Richmond Meats, which was headquartered in Hawke’s Bay. At that stage PPCS had a policy of not communicating in any way, shape or form with the media.
The takeover bid for Richmond became increasingly acrimonious. It was challenged on legal grounds and on several occasions it ended up in the High Court for a decision. The one-sided flow of pro-Richmond Meats information in the media unified growers in the North Island and unsettled PPCS cooperative shareholders in the South Island.
It was clear that even if PPCS won the battle in the courts, it would potentially lose any residual goodwill of the Richmond suppliers, who would be vital for on-going viability if and when the cooperative moved into the North Island.
One of the most stinging allegations was that PPCS was a “commodity trader” which created a widespread belief that PPCS still followed 19th century practices of wrapping carcasses in cheese cloth and sending them off to the Smithfield for butchering and packaging before heading to the supermarket shelves. Nothing was further from the truth.
Morrison McDougall brokered a peace plan between the media and PPCS by flying every senior agricultural journalist to Dunedin for a tour the facilities and to see for themselves that PPCS was as modern, and in some cases more innovative, as any world class meat processor.
The tour ended with the journalists being hosted to a lunch in the PPCS boardroom where journalists were encouraged to ask any question, on any topic they wished.
The Business Difference
PPCS went on to claim victory in the courts and more importantly it established a relationship and trust with the media that had previously been lacking. PPCS also gained an understanding of what is expected of them as a major New Zealand food processor in terms of its communication with the general public.