I was following the Twitter feed from a panel discussion at the Food Dialogues in Chicago last week, and a tweet about the issue of labeling for marketing vs education reminded me of something I noticed while grocery shopping a few weeks ago.

Consider this chicken, NEW! at our neighborhood Walmart.

GNP Chicken

This isn’t any ordinary chicken.  This is chicken raised on family farms.  Not only is it on the packaging, but the message is on the front of the shelf the chicken is sitting on as well.  Don’t miss it!  Family farms, you guys!

My intent is not to pick on Gold’n Plump here; their packaging just happens to be a really good example of messaging for marketing rather than messaging for education.  The fact is, 95 percent of broiler chickens are raised on family farms.  95 percent.  Almost all chickens raised for food grow up on farms run by families.  So chances are, the Big Label chicken or Store Brand chicken right next to this Gold’n Plump was also raised on a family farm.  Gold’n Plump just uses the message as a marketing tool.

Also on the packaging (partially cut off in the picture, sorry) are the following statements used to make you feel good about your purchase.  Let’s take a look at the reality behind the messages they’re selling with:

  • All Natural.  Yep.  According to USDA guidelines, this just means that the product has simply been cleaned, cut up, trimmed and packaged, without artificial additives. Just like you’d expect fresh chicken to be.  Some chicken has added sodium solutions, and as long as the products of those solutions are natural, they’d fall under the All Natural umbrella, too.
  • No added hormones.  They also include the required “Federal regulation prohibits the use of hormones in poultry” statement in fine print.  Since the USDA doesn’t allow any added hormones, if you tout that fact about your chicken, you also have to tell the consumer that no other chicken has added hormones, either.
  • Minimally processed.  We’re looking at bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs.  That’s about as minimally processed as you can get.  See All Natural above.
  • Gluten free. This is maybe the epitome of a message for marketing vs. a message for education.   Gluten free foods are trendy right now, so this is a key message from a marketing standpoint, but really doesn’t tell you anything about the chicken that you shouldn’t already know.

Gold’n Plump’s parent company addresses some of the more hot-button issues on their website, including the use of antibiotics, feed containing animal by-products and/or GMOs, and animal welfare.  I was pleased to see that their answers were straight-forward, transparent and relatively easy to understand.  Well done on the FAQs, Gold’n Plump.

At the end of the day, using statements and messaging to sell a product is a totally fair and legitimate industry marketing strategy (so long as they’re truthful, which I believe Gold’n Plump’s are).  I get that.  But what I think is more important and valuable than feel-good phrases is messaging for education – telling the farmer/grower’s story, being transparent and real, helping consumers be well-armed with relevant information so they can make the best decisions for their families.

Sources: 1, 2, 3