Part 2: Brand PR at Work

You’re Joe or Karen Consumer, and you’re in a supermarket shopping for dinner.  You pick up a package of fresh chicken for your family’s evening meal, and you’re proud of yourself for this time selecting a “good deal” that represents cost savings, right next to the brand you ordinarily purchase in the poultry case. It’s a tough economy, and “fresh chicken is fresh chicken,” you tell yourself.

That’s the scenario California-based Foster Farms faced at the start of the recession a few years back…consumers finding ways to cut costs but negating the quality difference.

For the company, the mandate was clear: 1) develop a powerful communications program that would stop the impending loss of market share to out-of-state, cheap chicken and 2) make sure that consumers understood why the company’s branded product was worth every penny every time.  In other words, create such a clear and dependable value for the brand in the mind of the consumer that other factors, including price incentives, would lose relevance — the very definition of Brand PR.

During this time, the out-of-state competitors were bannering their packages as “fresh and natural,” attributes that family-owned Foster Farms had maintained in its market for decades.  In the past, those labels had real meaning; they signified that Foster Farms products were delivered fresh from nearby ranches and, thus, never had to be frozen like more distant producers’ chicken did coming in from the East Coast or the South.

What changed, we found, was the competition’s practice of injecting saltwater into poultry to help keep the product “fresher” longer for those long rides while enhancing their products’ flavor and, not so incidentally, package weight.  In essence, consumers were unknowingly paying for useless saltwater.

The story elements were compelling and provocative:  hidden sodium, unseen costs to consumers’ wallets and to their health, and a timely and topical labeling issue.

The sum total — a real position to differentiate the Foster Farms brand.  Not least, it gave us the opportunity to educate and inform the public about the real costs of cheap chicken.  By revealing the saltwater-injection practice of other producers, a process Foster Farms coined as “plumping,” we would demonstrate why these other brands weren’t so natural…or, even, cheap.

We launched a far reaching consumer education campaign with media relations in the West and nationwide, including publicizing the results of a consumer awareness survey about the issue.  There were television appearances by a nutritionist who discussed the hazards of hidden sodium.  She helped to demonstrate the issue with facts that included graphic images of packages containing up to $1.50 each of saltwater content and higher sodium levels than a large order of French fries.  The campaign also included entertaining consumer interaction at high traffic public events, petitions to support label lobbying efforts in Washington D.C.; and, of course,social media engagement.

In the end, we earned 300 million media impressions, 50,000 signatures on petitions to the USDA to disallow the “fresh and natural” labeling on “plumped” chicken and these efforts were championed by a U.S. Senator from California (still under review by USDA.).  The Los Angeles Times endorsed the Foster Farms campaign, possibly the first commercial campaign endorsed in a Times editorial.  The campaign also earned Foster Farms, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Fineman PR an Effie, one of the most prestigious ad and marketing industry awards.  Foster Farms won solid consumer positioning as a trusted brand, providing consumers what they wanted: optimal value at a time when many food producers were shrinking packages to leverage profit.

Consumers got it.  Market share was maintained during this period, and that was especially notable compared to most industry producers’ loss of market share to private label during the same period.

While Fineman PR has certainly had its Brand PR case studies over the years – mainstreaming and raising the profile of now well-known natural foods companies (Republic of Tea, Clif Bar, Vitasoy, Muir Glen, Fantastic Foods, et al), involvement in the introduction of the Wrapp concept, and demonstrating the value-add of packaged salads, all in the ‘90s; the introduction of many high profile dot coms across varying sectors  (sporting goods, cosmetic and lifestyle, luxury, healthcare), most still in existence today; and working with established wineries to both differentiate their brands (Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Chateau Montelena, Hanzell Vineyards) among the hundreds of new wineries; and launch new high end brands (Derenoncourt California, Moone-Tsai, Arkenstone) – the Foster Farms “Say No to Plumping” campaign is a powerful and comprehensive picture of how a well-considered, brand-focused  public relations program can have a direct impact on sales, market share and bottom line revenue, and all while promoting brand values.

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