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

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Opinion

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 www.dairycarrie.com, 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: http://dairycarrie.com/2013/07/23/dear-panera-bread-company/

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?

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