April 10, 2012 by Charlie Walker
Posted in: communication, In this week's e-newsletter - Sales & Marketing, Latest News & Views - Sales & Marketing
Pink slime: Public menace or a marketer’s worst nightmare?
Turns out that no health risks are associated with the harmless beef filler — but it’s now a full-blown marketing disaster.
Call it a perfect storm: Companies making and using the beef filler product had never faced anything like this.
Whatever game plan — if any — the industry had was drastically unprepared to quickly counter a public relations disaster of this magnitude.
It’s an unfortunate example of failing to expect the unexpected.
The fallout from sloppy media coverage of pink slime would’ve been considered a worst-case scenario, if it was considered at all.
It’s a painful possibility other businesses might heed in planning their own marketing strategy — to at least anticipate what could constitute a serious blow to a company’s reputation.
Lessons that might be learned from pink slime:
Marketing Mistake No. 1: Since producers were off-guard when the media caught wind of this substance that’s made from cast-off meat pieces, they couldn’t rally a defense. Quickly, the media dubbed it “pink slime.”
How can you begin to defend your company when you’re accused of making “pink slime” for people to eat?
Schools started to cancel orders in droves. Fast-food chains and supermarkets jumped on the bandwagon.
The media flogging was under way.
Marketing Mistake No. 2: The industry offered what it felt was a sensible, accurate defense to the media charges and growing public outrage.
The message: Pink slime wasn’t slime at all; it was ammonia-treated, boneless lean beef trimmings used by food industry without controversy for years.
Now people are expected to eat meat that’s been treated with ammonia? Something out of the cleaning cabinet? That added credence to the perception this was dangerous stuff.
Marketing mistake No. 3: The industry told too much of the truth too soon, making its defense sound more like an excuse. The explanation was that the FDA has long approved the practice of collecting packinghouse cuttings and processing it into a filler that’s a part of about 15% of the beef products.
The USDA also has maintained that the fat-free meat filler is safe for consumption.
The ammonia? It’s part of a standard treatment for a wide variety of food products. It’s used to kill potentially dangerous bacteria.
A better idea
What might have made a better marketing response would’ve been to pro-actively emphasize there was nothing new about this product, in fact, it’s been a safe, low-fat, valuable part of America’s diet for a long time.
Examples: Fresh retail ground beef; low-fat hot dogs; lunch meats; beef sticks; pepperoni; frozen entrees; meatballs; canned foods — the list goes on.
Now the damage is piling up.
This news came at a terrible time for the beef industry: The bottom’s dropped out on expectations for spring barbecue season; and Tyson Foods, Inc., is predicting that demand for all beef products are headed for a slump.
Beef products company AFA Foods, Inc., has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. AFA Foods, based in Pennsylvania, lays the blame for its financial failure on the dread of so-called “pink slime”.
Before that, it was Beef Products International’s decision to idle three of its four plants.
“While lean, finely textured beef was given a catchy and clever nickname in ‘pink slime,’ the impact of alarming broadcasts about this safe and wholesome beef product by Jamie Oliver, ABC News and others are no joke to those families that are now out of work,” said American Meat Institute President J. Patrick Boyle in a written statement.