Anti-biotic free chicken? Panera pays a price with EZ Chicken campaign

It’s too late to find the EZChicken twitter posts put out by Panera bread. They’ve been replaced with sincere apologies for offending people. The blog diarycarrie documents some of the cute but offensive posts that were the EZ Chicken campaign.

“Anti-biotic free” chicken sounds like just one of a gazillion marketing appeals made by food providers these days. A sure winner. And who couldn’t love a “lazy” chicken, one that hangs around in pajamas and wonders if dreaming of running counts as a workout.

But the message of the campaign was clear: using anti-biotics while raising chickens is a form of cheating, a work saving work around to the harder option of raising anti-biotic free chicken. Problem is, it was pure nonsense. Crafted by clever creative people who clearly never bothered to do any research on anti-biotic use in raising chickens–nor did they think through how farmers might respond to being called lazy.

The response was quite overwhelming, and forced Panera to do a pretty fast turnaround. EZ Chicken is no more, and while they are not exactly backing down, according to Dairycarrie are certainly doing what they can to unruffle some feathers.

Food production and marketing is one of the most interesting areas of crisis communication these days. We are in the midst of a very serious change, a mind-set change, a worldview change, a sea-change, a paradigm shift as all the cliches would have it. The younger generation in particular (my very bright adult children are poster children for this) is highly distrustful of factory farming, they hate the likes of Monsanto, don’t trust government regulators to protect us and are eager to buy (at practically any cost it seems) that which is fresher, closer to the farm and that promises to use less bad stuff like fertilizer, anythingcides, and antibiotics.

There’s a lot good to be said about this. A have a brother who is doing very well in promoting his farm raised beef, chickens, eggs, pork online with the very appropriate tagline: know where your food comes from.

Therefore its natural for just about any company selling food, Panera for example, to jump on the “healthier” bandwagon and promote something that sounds like it is going to be much better for you. But Panera provides a compelling lesson for marketing folks who are thinking of getting on this bandwagon. Turns out its a farm wagon, not a bandwagon. And there are a lot of farmers out there, plus other people who can sniff the difference between wholesome marketing and something that comes from the back end of bull.

EZ Chicken is lounging quietly on his hammock out of public sight. But food marketers should put a poster of EZ Chicken in their foosball rooms as a reminder of the perils of unwarranted and thoughtless claims.



2 thoughts on “Anti-biotic free chicken? Panera pays a price with EZ Chicken campaign”

  1. I totally agree…and I also think that Panera is trying to mitigate the crisis. On twitter, their account is responding to each tweet personally. But then it stops. I was impressed to find a personal response to me…mentioning my twitter handle and a response to my comment about EZChicken, but my attempts to have a real conversation were met with total silence. If you really want to fix the problem and your mistake, Panera, you need to truly TALK to the farmers and people who you offended. I have found that a personal apology and conversation is the best way to respond to someone I’ve inadvertently offended. Keep trying…keep learning…and work WITH the farmers.

  2. Just so you know if antibiotics are used in a farming operation there can be antibiotic residues that fall below an acceptable level by FDA standards and still be called antibiotic free. It just has to be below the level they deem as not a danger. Panera Bread sources its chickens from ranches that do not use antibiotics. So if anybodies chicken is truly antibiotic free it would be theirs and they should have stuck to there guns.

Comments are closed.