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So, you've pleaded guilty to collusion -- Now what?

One expert says Bumble Bee can repair its reputation, eventually.

Canned tuna giant Bumble Bee Foods agreed to plead guilty to charges of canned tuna price fixing, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Monday, and now faces an uphill battle not only in court, but in the court of public opinion.

It may be a rough road, but the company can gain back its reputation, said crisis and brand reputation expert Eden Gillott Bowe, president of Gillott Communications and a former business professor.

"Three words a brand never wants to face are scheme, conspiracy and overcharging," Gillott Bowe told IntraFish. "After pleading guilty, it's time to pivot and focus on the future."

The first step -- admission of guilt -- is done, she said. Now, Bumble Bee needs to stop talking about it.

"They've already gone and admitted that they've done it," she said. "Companies tend to beat a dead horse," she said. "They tend to keep talking about past mistakes, but what Bumble Bee needs to do is talk about the bright, happy future they're going to create and how they're going to use this to create transparency and use it to update their policies."

But the company does indeed need to come clean, and "fess up" to any other problems it may be having, she added.

"If there are other issues that crop up, like there usually are, it will continue to let the story drag out," Gillott Bowe said. "If they have any other skeletons in the closet, now is the time to air them."

The public will feel betrayed by the iconic company, Gillott Bowe said, due to its "sneaky behavior," but "if Bumble Bee makes the changes that are necessary and makes sure not to relapse, they have the ability to gain the public's trust."

Gillott Bowe also said companies usually sacrifice a top executive "to the PR gods."

"The public is usually out for blood, and what ends up happening is one of the senior level managers usually gets the boot, seen as a sacrifice," she said. "Management is the first to go."

Some managers have already faced the music. In December, Bumble Bee Senior VP Kenneth Worsham was charged with a one-count felony charge for his role in the price-fixing conspiracy.

Weeks earlier, Bumble Bee Foods Senior Vice President Walter Scott Cameron agreed to plead guilty as well.

While competitors can sometimes take advantage of a misstep, it's unlikely in this case, given that all three major brands are accused of collusive behavior.

Whatever the outcome of the private and public litigation, Bumble Bee has its work cut out for it.

Fast food restaurant Chipotle "is still fighting" its food safety issues from 2016, Gillott Bowe noted.

"As long as it doesn't become a prolonged news story for Bumble Bee, they should be able to recover much more quickly," she said.


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