Panera Bread Takes Cheap Shot at Farmers, Gets Twitter-Spanked

As Gary Larson once said, The Chickens are Restless.

If you’re not on Twitter, you likely haven’t heard about a growing group of disgruntled farmers taking aim at Panera Bread Company’s cheap shot at conventional agriculture. Cheap shot is perhaps being generous — an entire ad campaign has been built around fear mongering and misinformation, one that, as one farmer puts it, calls farmers lazy and infers that chicken from any source other than theirs is laden with antibiotics.

Carrie Mess, American dairy farmer and blogger at, recently called out Panera after reading over the menu and finding the term “antibiotic free” chicken used to promote the company’s chicken as superior. While the term is misleading (all livestock destined for slaughter must be antibiotic free; there are set withdrawal periods for each medication), it wasn’t until she found Panera’s full marketing campaign that @DairyCarrie (her Twitter handle) made it known that she was completely disgusted with the marketing ploy used by the company. The marketing campaign features EZChicken, an antibiotic pill-shaped bird that extols the virtues of being lazy. Mess takes that to mean that Panera is calling conventional chicken producers lazy, all on the premise that the meat they produce is laden with antibiotics.

Here’s the post:

Mess’s post, the comments after and the #PluckEZChicken hashtag ruffled more than a few feathers, and managed to get Panera Bread’s attention. She’s subsequently had a phone conversation with the head of their marketing department who has stood by the company’s claim of superior chicken, but doesn’t agree that the marketing campaign calls farmers lazy. (Read about that here).

Not only do I commend Mess for using social media as a powerful tool in drawing attention to nasty marketing tactics, but, as I watched the Twitter-spanking that Panera Bread received, I realized that Mess was doing what I have failed to do on many occasions. Too often, I see marketing buzz-words used that are perhaps true, but useless (see the above image…how many GM lentil varieties do you know of?), or misleading (free-run eggs!),  to down-right false (free-range potatoes). The fact is food manufacturers want to differentiate their products, either to gain share or to justify charging more. Marketing campaigns will use words that carry weight based on perception, but it’s up to us as consumers to demand that they be factual, too. As consumers busily going about our daily tasks, we rarely stop to question what these words mean or are costing us.

I’m guilty of letting the tiny jabs at conventional agriculture slip by without so much as a question to the waiter bringing me my “all natural” chicken sandwich. Here’s the bottom line for me — what Carrie Mess did was what anyone who ISN’T a farmer should do when the see a word in a menu describing food but they’re not sure exactly why that applies and if they should be paying a premium for it. Does your local or not-so-local restaurant, grocery store or farmer’s market-hawker make claims about how the food is raised or prepared? If so, ask what that means, exactly. You may decide that you prefer to pay more for pigs that spend their lives on pasture, or chickens raised that way, and that’s just fine. But make sure you’re not just paying for an ad campaign and acting like sheeple, aimlessly following those that have gone before. And I promise to ask for more clarification of claims made on menus, packages and the like from now on.

What do you think? Do you speak up when you see buzz-words that may not apply? Why or why not?

9 thoughts on “Panera Bread Takes Cheap Shot at Farmers, Gets Twitter-Spanked

  1. Bravo to it all! I’ve been following Carrie and I say good on her! I just posted on my blog today ( a call-out for questions and concerns regarding GMO’s because all I see in my “mommy blogger” community is fear mongering and fallacies. There’s a HUGE movement in the mommy blogosphere to get GMO’s out of Similac infant formula and unfortunately the community is extremely difficult to converse with as they are very emotional and unable to listen to reason, which is why I’m trying to be a positive voice in the GMO community to just spread awareness and truth.

    Also? It is a HUGE pet peeve of mine when things are labeled “GLUTEN FREE!!!” when they don’t have gluten in it anyway! It’s all a marketing ploy. Whoever can speak loudest wins! I, too, need to start speaking up more about these buzz-words and mislabeling.

    1. Labeling something “free” that would never, ever have that ingredient in the first place just makes my blood boil. And it makes people think that buying a big bag of chips is better because it’s “gluten-free”. So are apples, but you don’t see those labeled as such. Sheesh.

      1. This get’s my blood boiling as well, consumers should know what their food is made of and where it comes from. Nothing erks me more then reading ‘Farm Fresh’, ‘Natural’, ‘Gluten Free’ and wrapped in brown paper. It’s all about the perception of home grown farmers market products, yet the consumers don’t understand that the Gluten Free cookies made with all Natural ingrediants are actually worse for you then having a box of Chips a hoy!
        Bon Appetit on facebook shared an interesting article last night from the New York times regarding GMO in Florida Oranges. It’s amazing how single minded most so called ‘foodies’ are when it comes to actual food production.

    2. Items labeled gluten free have been transported, stored, and processed in dedicated trucks and warehouses and manufacturing plants that do not process ANY gluten containing items. That is not the case for items not labeled as gluten free. It might not make any difference to people who are following a gluten free diet for the heck of it or are self diagnosed, but for those with real celiac disease even a smidge of gluten can cause their intestinal lining to start sloughing off and lead to internal bleeding. No, apples on their own don’t contain gluten – but can you say for sure that they haven’t been stored in a warehouse next to a pallet of flour sacks?

  2. Good article, Lyndsey. I want to ruffle some more feathers…

    To #PluckEZChicken tweeps:

    I certainly don’t adore Panera’s negative advertising, but I didn’t take it as an opportunity to demonstrate/prove how much we work. If anything, the hammock-loving chicken was calling *everyone* who supports “conventional” agriculture lazy: consumers, producers and poultry alike. Not a new strategy, by the way, and as one of all of the above (a bit of a chicken, aye), I wasn’t offended by any of it.

    The advertising campaign was unimpressive and “fear-mongering,” is not something we should support. So, good work to anyone who expressed their concern and distaste for those aspects of the advertising.

    But, calm down, people. Everyone knows farmers work. They/we work too! In fact, I bet the people behind the EZChicken campaign worked hard on their marketing strategies. You don’t agree with how they did it? That’s fine. You don’t have to. That’s part of the joy of living in a country that supports personal choice and freedom of speech. But, if they explained how much they worked on that campaign, would it change your mind about it? No? So, besides ranting to an already plucked chicken, what is the goal behind the constant expression of how much farmers work?

    Thank you, Carrie, for bringing our attention to this campaign, and initiating some interesting debates! The power of social media!

  3. We are all guilty of just shrugging of some of what we know are preposterous statements, because we know better. The problem is that not everyone does. Thanks for the reminder.

  4. We are all guilty of shrugging off what we know are preposterous claims and statements, because they are so silly that we are sure that everyone recognizes them as so. But the marketers at companies like Panera know that really isn’t so, there are many out there who will believe everything they see in ads, on TV or on the internet. Thanks for the reminder.

  5. As a rancher, let me just toss in my two cents. Raising livestock in non-conventional settings is more work for less money in most cases, and honestly a labor of love. While the advertising campaign may have been misleading, they’re ultimately trying to give the consumers what they want, because God knows those buzzwords sell and folks ask for them like they’re real things. I appreciate the recognition that my certified naturally grown birds take a little extra effort. My family has owned conventional chicken houses, and they are specifically sold to farmers on the line that this method is “less work for more output” than the old-fashioned way.

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