Editor's Plate

Editor's Plate: The Food and Beverage Industry Needs a PR Campaign

Like Big Pharma and Big Oil are doing, an ad campaign highlighting all the good things may improve consumer sentiment.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

The other night I was watching TV when one of those pharmaceutical commercials came on. Except it wasn’t for a particular drug; it was promoting the pharmaceutical industry in general.

While the Dylan Thomas poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” was read, the ad showed scientists working to find cures for ill newborns, children and old people. Some of the scientists peering through their microscopes were bleary-eyed, apparently exhausted in their pursuit of finding cures for sick and dying people.

Superimposed words said: “When an indomitable will to cure … pushes researchers to find the unfindable … and cure the incurable … today’s breakthroughs become tomorrow’s medicines … for all of us.” Then it showed what looked like real snapshots – from family photo albums or high school yearbooks – presumably of people who were living some milestone events thanks to the efforts of Big Pharma.

I’ve also seen a few TV spots from ExxonMobil, although they promoted the positive side of all energy companies. One told of all the jobs offshore drilling creates along the Gulf of Mexico. Another showed how the company is exploring algae as a future biofuel, while a searing guitar plays an electric version of “Farmer in the Dell.” It ends with apparently real ExxonMobil biofuels scientist Kelsey McNeely (Ph.D.) saying, “I guess you could call me an energy farmer.”

Anyway, they’re both from industries that have taken a lot of public heat for making profits from things people can’t live without. And both campaigns were very persuasive, at least from my seat on the couch.

It’s time for Big Food to do likewise. For a couple of years now, the biggest theme in this business has been reconnecting with consumers, re-establishing trust, rekindling the love affair. As much as I criticize many practices of the big companies, I also realize they do a lot of good; and we can’t live without them. We have the safest, securest, most plentiful, most diverse and cheapest food supply in the world – I know you’ve heard those words many times before, but you and I are preaching to the choir. The primetime TV audience needs to hear them.

If Josh Tetrick (remember the quarrelsome founder of eggless mayo company Hampton Creek?) could take out full-page ads in the Sunday New York Times, why can’t the Grocery Manufacturers Assn.? Why not develop some TV spots? There are so many good stories to tell. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation. How do you feed a world of 9 billion people? And so many individual-company stories of social responsibility.

The good stories deserve to be told. Now, who will take the lead in making this happen?