by Karli Gillespie–
Since the Tropical Smoothie Café Hepatitis A outbreak first reported on Aug. 5, the franchise is now faced with the battle of winning back customers and regaining their trust through different marketing and promotional efforts. As of Sept. 16, the Food Poison Journal has reported over 120 Hepatitis A cases across the United States linked to the contaminated strawberries Tropical Smoothie Café had been using in their smoothies.
“When this type of thing happens [to a business], it’s as if your spouse cheated on you,” says Jon Cash, the owner of the Blacksburg and Lynchburg Tropical Smoothie Café franchises. “You need time to regain the their trust. All of the stuff coming out today [in the media] is still based on those two days we used the strawberries exported from Egypt.”
Cash is not wasting any time, and has already implemented some promotional efforts in our area. Tropical Smoothie Café employees have spent time on Virginia Tech campus and Downtown Blacksburg passing out promotional cards offering customers a half price smoothie with any purchase of a wrap, sandwich, salad or flatbread.
“I ordered 10,000 of these [half price promotional cards] from VistaPrint, and just ordered another 10,000,” Cash says. “But I’ve been very disappointed. We’ve handed out about 9,000 of those so far around campus, and we maybe get 15 or 20 cards a day. I really thought we would get a lot more business with these.”
Tropical Smoothie Café Blacksburg also plans to tap into the Hokie Spirit and host tailgates on football game days – giving away free smoothies to those who stop by.
According to Cash, the full-fledged marketing efforts Tropical Smoothie Café will use nationwide has not been announced yet by corporate, and can be expected as soon as six weeks.
“Until the media stops reporting the same thing and we have at least two weeks [of quiet], we can’t aggressively reimage ourselves and do what we need to do,” Cash says.
However, Cash believes that his businesses are at an advantage in comparison to other Tropical Smoothie Café establishments by being in college towns .
“The younger kids will be more forgiving in the end. So business will come back quicker for someone like me that has a store here at Virginia Tech and a store at Liberty [University],” Cash says. “Our sales dropped 50 percent, but we’re already up 10 percent from last week. So we’re seeing a slow increase, but still horrible in the sense of what we’re used to.”
No Hepatitis A cases have been reported through the Blacksburg or Lynchburg, Va. restaurants.