Monday, April 3, 2017

"Antifreeze" Found in Fireball Whiskey (2014-2015)

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Fireball bottle and logo
In recent years, bars across the world have noticed an immense growth in popularity of the alcoholic drink known as Fireball. The cinnamon whiskey is a sweet tasting drink that college students love due to its cheap price compared to the rest of the market. To emphasize their hot cinnamon flavor, they came up with the catchy slogan, "Taste like heaven, burns like hell." The company has been rapidly growing over the past five years and has really only had one major hiccup. In late 2014, Fireball accidentally shipped an American batch of whisky to three different countries in Europe. The problem with this is how the US and Canada have different FDA laws than in Europe so Fireball has to make two different versions of the drink. Sweden, Finland and Norway all cleared their shelves of this product because they believed that toxic “Antifreeze” was found in their cinnamon liqueur. The chemical that was actually in this drink was just a sweetening ingredient, propylene glycol, which is found in many other food products. It is used to absorb the water and make a stronger cinnamon flavor. This chemical is legal in the North American batches of Fireball but illegal in Europe due to their different Food and Drug Administration laws. When Fireball dispatched an American shipment of their whiskey overseas to Europe, it cost them nearly a month of sales because the shelves were empty and there was none to be bought.

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Woman choosing Fireball Whiskey over all other competitors
Anyone who is affected by the mistake made by Fireball is considered a stakeholder in this case. The major stakeholder is the company Fireball itself. They lost over a million dollars of sales in three whole countries. Granted Fireball is not yet as popular across the pond as it is in America, this is still an entire four weeks receiving no revenue from Sweden, Finland or Norway. Another major stakeholder is the liquor stores in these countries. They are also not making any profit on Fireball Whiskey due to the fact that it was recalled and they had none to sell. It does not affect them as much as the company itself because Fireball drinkers can find cinnamon whiskey substitutes such as Tennessee Jack Fire or Jim Beam Kentucky Fire. Fireball consumers are affected for two main reasons. First, they do not get to drink their favorite cinnamon whiskey for the time that it is not on the shelves. Secondly, since Fireball is one of the cheaper whiskeys on the market, they are going to have to spend more money to get a good temporary replacement. The last stakeholder is The Sazerac Company. These are the guys who manufacture the Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey. This error caused their inventory numbers to be intensely throw off and it took a lot of effort to sort everything back to how it was.

In the eyes of Milton Friedman, the creator of Individualism, he would have seen this as a loss to the business. The dispatcher behind the lapse of shipping millions of dollars of whiskey to the wrong continent caused their company to lose almost a month of profit condemning this as unethical in means to being an Individualist. Individualism is all about maximizing profits and Fireball’s adverse actions caused just the opposite of that. Every single stakeholder involved lost some money one way or another. The matter is, if Fireball did not recall their product, it would have been illegal because of the FDA laws in Europe. According to Machan’s Individualism, one must do everything to maximize profit while still abiding by the law. Although the drink is completely harmless, since it contains the propylene glycol it is still illegal to serve because of the European food laws.


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Antifreeze which contains the industrial grade version
of the chemical Propylene Glycol
John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism also argues this to be unethical because of all of the people who were let down by this blunder. A utilitarian's one value is to bring happiness to the majority of stakeholders in a situation like this one. Three countries filled with Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey drinkers had to go nearly a month without their favorite drink. This minimizes happiness to everyone involved in this incident from the Fireball consumers, liquor store owners and to all the employees of the company. Fireball earned lots of publicity from this case and even though it was bashing their company, many people argue that “no publicity is bad publicity.” Eventually they earned trust from pulling their product but in the short term all stakeholders were upset by the company's actions.

The main concept of Immanuel Kant’s Kantianism is seeking to do what is right because it is right. A Kantian would state that an ethical behavior, action, or decision is rational and respects an individual's needs and differences. Fireball came out saying that their product was "perfectly safe to drink" but still recalled it anyway. They admitted to the frustration that they had to go through during this process but they knew it had to be done. By pulling their product it showed their respect for Europe's different food laws but since they were wrongly motivated, it doesn't fall under Kantianism's theory. They were losing so much money from the recall which is why they did not want to do it at all. It was not Good Will that drove them to take back the whiskey but it was the fact that it was necessary. If they sold the North American batch in those European countries, it would have been illegal because they would be breaking the FDA food laws.

Virtue Theory
Aristotle’s Virtue Theory actually deams Fireball’s actions as ethical due to the courage and honesty that they immediately portrayed once the recall broke news. Fireball took an action of justice by taking their product back and replacing it with the original European batch of Fireball. Even though they were wrongly motivated and lost all of the money doing this, the action of recalling the product was done. All of this occurred in the last months of 2014 and into 2015. By recalling their whiskey they earned their customer’s trust. It is no wonder their year end net income doubled from 2014 to 2015. For all of the publicity they got for their “screw up” it seems like this was one of the best things to happen to the company. Now everybody knows that they are honest and look out for their customers and more importantly for the company's sake, they know this will never happen again.

Justified Ethics Evaluation
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Shelves filled with Fireball once the resolution was resolved 
Once Fireball realized that they had made a mistake, they immediately took action. Because of this, I believe that they did the right thing. Although they went against many ethical theories, in the end it had to be done. Profit fell immensely by recalling their product which goes against the theory of Individualism. Every stakeholder in this case was stripped of their happiness because they were either losing money, or losing their favorite drink and Utilitarianism disagrees with those actions. Since Fireball did not have the right motivation to recall their product, they do not fall under the theory of Kantianism. If this is all true, how come they came out a year later in 2015 and completely doubled their revenue? It is because they got all of that publicity and earned the trust of their customers. The recall was for the wrong reasons, in the short term it made people upset and they even lost money doing it but in the end, it was the right thing to do. Fireball is still growing closer and closer to becoming the number one selling whiskey on the market.


Alexander C. Kaufman (2014) Fireball Whiskey Reacalled In 3 Countries Over Antifreeze Ingredient

Sarah Begley (2014) Fireball was Recalled, But it is Still a Powerhouse Drink

Jessie Maher (2014) The Fireball Scandal: Exposing the Double Standards of the Food System

Jennifer Pompi (2014) Fireball Whiskey Recalled in Europe Over Antifreeze Ingredient

Dr. Salazar, Heather (2016). The Business Ethics Case Manual

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