By Kim Smiley
On May 27, 2016, it was announced that 3.1 million Tommee Tippee Sippee spill-proof cups were being recalled because of concerns about mold. The issue came to light after consumers called the company to complain about finding mold in children’s cups and several alarming photos of moldy cup valves were posted on the company’s Facebook page, some shared thousands of times. There have been more than three thousand consumer reports about mold forming in the cup valves, including 68 cases of illness that are consistent with consuming mold.
A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be built to better understand this issue. The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to fill in an Outline with the basic background information, including how the issue impacts the overall goals. In this case, the safety goal is impacted because 68 cases of illness have been reported. The regulatory call is impacted by the recall of the cups and the economic goal is impacted because of the high cost associated with recalling and replacing millions of cups. The time required to investigate and address the issue can be considered an impact to the labor/time goal. Additionally, the customer service goal is impacted because more than 3,000 consumers have reported mold in their sippy cups and because of the negative social media.
The next step in the Cause Mapping process is to build the Cause Map itself. The Cause Map is built by asking “why” questions and visually laying out the answers to show the cause-and-effect relationships. Understanding the many causes that contribute to an issue can help a broader range of solutions to be considered rather than focusing on a single “root cause” and focusing on solving only one issue. In this example, the mold is growing in the one-piece valve used in this model of cup. The valves remained moist, likely because they are not allowed to dry between uses, and they were not cleaned frequently enough to prevent mold growth. Many consumers have complained that it is very difficult or even impossible to adequately clean the cup valve which has contributed to the mold issue. In addition to the growth of the mold, one of the reasons children have gotten is sick is because it is hard to see the mold. Caregivers are unaware of the fact that the cups are moldy and continue to use them. (To see how these issue might be captured on a Cause Map, click on “Download PDF” above.)
The final step in the Cause Mapping process is to develop and implement solutions that will reduce the risk of the problem from reoccurring. In this case, all cup designs that use the single one-piece valve are being recalled and the valve replaced with either a trainer straw cup with no valve or a sippy cup with a new design two-piece valve that is easier to clean. The new two-piece valve comes apart in such a way that should also make it much easier to identify a potential mold issue, which should hopefully reduce the likelihood that a child will ingest mold. (If you think you may own one of these cups, you can get more information about how to get a replacement here.)
One of the interesting pieces of this case study is that the company has to work to address the technical issue with the valve design, but it also has to work to rebuild consumer trust. Consumers, especially when buying products for small children, will avoid a company if they don’t believe they take safety concerns seriously. This company has taken a beating online by outraged parents in the months leading up to the recall. In addition to designing a valve that will be less likely to harbor mold, it benefited the company to ensure the new design made it easy for parents to see that the cup valve was mold-free and safe. The company has also worked to spread information about the recall and tried to make it easy for consumers to get their recalled cups replaced. How a recall is handled has a huge impact on how consumers respond to the issue. A recall that isn’t handled well on top of an issue that has already shaken consumer trust can quickly spell disaster for a company. Consumers can be much more forgiving of an issue if a company responds quickly and if any necessary recalls are done as quickly and effectively as possible. It will be interesting to see how this company weathers this storm now that the cups have been recalled and the mold issue addressed.