March 22, 2012

Does anyone else besides me find it strange, even humorous but none-the-less ironic, after all the noise about “pink slime”, the nation’s fastest growing food chain is Five Guys? Seriously? I’m LMAO!

In a report released by Technomic and reported by Jon Maday in http://www.droversnetwork.com, Five Guys Burgers & Fries is the number one fastest growing food chain in America. Five Guys posted a 32.8% increase in sales in 2010. Chipotle Mexican Grill captured the number two spot but was out paced by Five Guys by almost 10%.

I’m sure Chipotle will attribute their success to all the corporate attention being paid to animal welfare, range free chickens, pigs that “get to sleep in deeply bedded pens which are comfortable”, never, ever using “pink slime”, worshiping Michael Pollan and a litany of other issues.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on the other hand keeps the message simple. You have 250,000 possible ways to order a burger and they use fresh never frozen beef. Fifty-pound bags of fresh potatoes are stacked to form an aisle from the front door to the order counter. If you happen to be there when it’s time to cut more fries, a couple of employees will come out front, heave a bag of potatoes over a shoulder and head off to prep more fresh-cut fries. Geez… it’s almost lunch and I’m 20 miles from the nearest location!

Not one of the ten restaurants on the fastest growing chain list qualifies as particularly healthy from my perspective as a consumer. I’m sure Chipotle would not agree with my perspective, but hey, it’s my blog! I really don’t think the quality of their food is all it’s cracked up to be! I do, however, frequent several restaurants on the list. I walk right up and place my order knowing exactly what I’m doing. It’s my choice. I’ll eat a salad tomorrow. Or not.

The ten franchise eateries on the Technomic list collectively posted annual sales of more than $8.2 billion. According to Jon Maday’s report in http://www.droversnetwork.com, McDonald’s is still the largest U.S. restaurant chain with $34.2 billion total annual sales. If Jon’s math is correct and I’m sure it is, total sales of McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s was more than $51 billion in 2010. I think it is safe to conclude, as consumers, since we spend approximately $60 billion per year on burgers, not ALL consumers are THAT appalled by “pink slime”!

I can’t even count the number of posts from peers in the industry on my Facebook page in a twit about “pink slime”. For example, the YouTube views posted by our industry responding to Jamie Oliver’s original claim about “pink slime” total approximately 3,770. I’m betting the majority of our 3,770 views are by those in our own industry.

Jamie’s original video as well as other similar related PS topics total more than 240,000 views. He’s a world-renowned chef. He’s also an entertainer and has used food and obesity as the focus of an entire reality TV series seen literally by millions. Jamie has present TED talks and published cookbooks. Oliver has 41,225 subscribers and 122 videos posted to his own YouTube channel. He IS a brand.

Yesterday his drama was a school lunch menu consisting of frozen chicken parts, fried food and sugar and played out on his reality TV show. Of course, in the end Jamie was the hero and changed how the entire town and the school looked at food. Today his manufactured hysteria is “pink slime”. Unfortunately, when he talks, many listen.

I’m not trying to minimize the negative publicity. But, I do sincerely believe we must do our own diligence. I’m very grateful we have resources willing to respond with facts. However, in the world of marketing and brand building, the very act of having to respond is a defensive position. We are always responding. We are always on the defense. As an industry, we must somehow find a way to deliver a more powerful, strategically offensive position. Unfortunately, it feels like we are continually resigned to taking on the Taliban with a BB gun.


I made a commitment to write a blog more than a year ago. My focus and commitment didn’t last long and the result was a rather extended sabbatical! I felt liked giving it another go for several reasons. Once again, the intent will be to “connect the dots” relating to issues affecting the beef industry, social issues with potentially damaging unintended consequences and marketing. So here we go—again.

The first time I heard someone talking about “Meatless Mondays”, I thought maybe it was some movement to show solidarity for those less fortunate. Maybe it was genuine concern for those who didn’t have a choice about whether or not they could eat on any given day, much less eat meat protein. Was I ever mistaken! Oh no, it is a misguided movement attacking our food production system, specifically the beef industry.

Hardcore Meatless Monday advocates who believe eliminating meat from their diet for a day reduces our carbon footprint and somehow, magically, we are more sustainable, are delusional. They read what they want to read and believe what they want to believe and damned if the facts get in the way! They espouse junk science and follow the mantras of Michael Pollan, a sensationalizing journalist not a scientist, and others less notable but equally as influential to the uninformed.

Now Meatless Monday has morphed into MM for short and become the new and improved health movement. Check out http://www.meatlessmonday.com and see the A List stars and entertainers buying into the schitk. According to the website, a survey conducted by the Internet reservation service, Open Table, found that 69% of those responding reported they go Meatless Monday. Another 9% say they observe MM on occasion. The website also says, “Hundreds of chefs around the country use the campaign to raise health, boost sustainability and create compelling dishes.”

I beg to disagree. I’m betting a big, fat steak, (I prefer filet mignon—rare), hundreds of chefs use the campaign as a marketing ploy to sell higher priced, higher margin menu items to a misinformed demographic quite willing to pay for it. In fact, possibly the most telling chef to “sign on” is the famous contemporary king of all foods Italian, Mario Batali. What an oxymoron that Batali, whose made a fortune building a restaurant empire on the back of an unlimited supply of premium meats now takes a position encouraging his patrons to NOT EAT MEAT! With restaurants named Bar Jamon, Carnevino Italian Steakhouse or Manzo, billed as “a formal dining experience that celebrates meat from the U.S.” do I seriously believe he doesn’t want his patrons to eat meat? Not for a minute!

The Journal of Animal Science recently published, “The Environmental Impact of Beef Production in the United States: 1977 compared with 2007”. Jude Capper, Ph.D., Washington State University animal scientist, conducted the research comprehensively examining the beef industry’s carbon footprint. I find the research fascinating as a layman.

Then I watch the evening news. What’s even more fascinating, and potentially frightening to me is how quickly a perfect storm can build that combines ideology and ignorance. Special interest groups, smelling blood in the water, cherry pick provocative issues such as carbon footprint that make world news almost on a daily basis. Obviously, niche marketers and even restaurateurs have taken advantage of an opportunity to superficially “by in” and promote an unfounded, misguided concept. These days, we seem to have a difficult time distinguishing between social lifestyle choices and misguided ideology.

The beef industry is fortunate to have bright minds like Jude Capper. Jude not only conducted the research, she’s traveling countless thousands of miles getting in front of audiences to present her findings. One of Jude’s research conclusions refutes the claims of Meatless Monday. The claims are, in fact, baseless. As Capper rather humorously presents to her audience, “Even if we all went meatless every Monday, if we only ate lentils and tofu and magically didn’t give off any methane ourselves, it’s going to cut our national carbon footprint by less than half a percent.” “And then there are important considerations, like where would animal byproducts like leather, tallow and pharmaceuticals come from?”

It’s easy to say these socialized sound bytes bore me, and they do. But, I’m fearful we continue to take for granted consumers outside of our own, sometimes narrow, world view have any appreciation for our efforts to produce safe, sustainable food for the planet. I’m fearful they truly believe they know better than those investing generations of knowledge, experience and amazing science about how to sustain such an incredibly complex food system.

Jude Capper’s research is science we desperately need and need to understand. And now, we need to be aggressive and strategic about how we use it.