Pink Slime – Updating the Update

Could ‘pink slime’ be rebranded?

This is NOT ground beef*

Three out of the four US factories making “lean beef trimmings” are to be shut down following a public outcry. Is “pink slime” – as critics call it – finished or could it be relaunched under a new name?

The look on shoppers’ faces as Jamie Oliver sloshed ammonia into a bowl of what he calls “pink slime” said it all.

They were horrified. They appeared to have no idea that the burgers they had been buying all these years contained anything other than prime cuts of beef.

But here was a TV chef showing them, in a 2011 edition of his US show Jamie’s Food Revolution, how their burgers are bulked out by meat that in previous decades would have been used for dog food, and is only made fit for human consumption by being treated with household bleach.

Job losses

The decision by major US supermarkets, fast food restaurants – and some public schools – to stop using food that contains Lean Finely Textured Beef, to give “pink slime” its official name, is a victory for Oliver and online campaigners who railed against it.

But the resulting loss of 850 meat processing jobs, at a time when America is suffering high unemployment, has angered many – and turned Jamie Oliver into a hate figure on some message boards.

He probably did more than anybody to bring “pink slime” to mainstream attention in the US, although the social media campaign to kill it off did not take off until last month, when ABC World News with Diane Sawyer ran an expose.

The US Department of Agriculture has now allowed schools to remove products containing “pink slime” from their cafeteria menus after Texan blogger Bettina Elias Siegel gathered more than 200,000 online signatures in nine days.

For the meat processing industry, it has been a bruising lesson in public relations and transparency in the age of social media.

Industry fight-back

It might also be the first example of a food ingredient being withdrawn not because of any safety fears, but because people have decided it sounds disgusting.

Industry chiefs are furious about what they see as a media-led smear campaign against a product that has been used in the US since the early 1990s and meets federal food safety standards.

Earlier this week, they launched a fight back – unveiling a new slogan “Dude, it’s beef” and enlisting the help of Texas governor and former presidential candidate Rick Perry, who dutifully chowed down on a burger containing the stuff on a visit to a processing plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska.

To British eyes, this stunt contains echoes of Conservative government minister John Gummer feeding his young daughter a beefburger, in front of the TV news cameras, at the height of the “mad cow disease” controversy in 1990.

But unlike the BSE outbreak no-one is seriously suggesting “pink slime” is dangerous – or even that burgers containing it are significantly less tasty or nutritious than other beef products.

The industry has launched a website, beefisbeef.com, to emphasise this – although Gary Martin, president of brand-naming consultants Gary Martin Group, believes they are missing the point.

“Who cares whether it’s 100% beef and who cares whether it’s lacking bacteria, if it’s something that you find disgusting?” he says.

Tragedy

He describes what has happened to the company driven out of business by the “pink slime” controversy as a tragedy.

The meat processing industry has launched a fight-back

But he says it was caused, in part, by the lack of a registered brand name for their main product.

“They didn’t brand themselves so someone else did,” he explains.

Lean beef trimmings have never marketed to the public as a product in their own right so it’s doubtful the companies making them would have thought that they needed a brand name.

But, says Martin, if they had been thinking ahead, they might have called the product something consumer-friendly like “Pro-leana”.

It might not have prevented the media backlash, but it might have helped them deal with it better, he argues.

Consumer anger

But, like most experts, he believes it is far too late to rebrand the product now, as it would be seen as a marketing “ploy”, which would further inflame consumer anger.

“Pink slime” is, in any case, a far more powerful brand name than anything the industry could come up with.

“It is a powerful image. To try to replace that image with something else might be tough,” says EJ Schultz, a food marketing writer with Advertising Age magazine.

He believes consumer anger has been driven by a lack of transparency.

“People are wondering ‘why didn’t I know about this before? Why wasn’t this labelled?’ People want everything labelled these days.”

Jason Karpf, who teaches public relations and marketing, also believes the food industry has got a lot to learn about modern consumers.

He says: “The heightened nature of consumer awareness means that food manufacturers must look at every component of their end user product and imagine public reaction to it. Predict and prepare for public reaction.”

The next ‘pink slime’?

Butchers across America have spotted a marketing opportunity

Meat processors have been adding beef scraps to burgers and other products since the 1970s to keep costs down – but they will now have to come with a replacement “that can withstand lay person scrutiny,” says Mr Karpf.

“They are going to have to think about the product itself before they try to come up with a name, and a campaign, that – dare I say – the public will swallow.”

Source: BBC News Read more

*My caption

Opinion:

After my Pink Slime – Update on 27th March there was a lengthy comment posted, that was blatantly industry initiated, by beefisbeef.com. Before replying I checked the site out, it was pure damage control.

But, not being churlish, I allowed the comment to stand and wrote a rebuttal. I have even given you the link to see for yourself.

The fact that “Meat processors have been adding beef scraps to burgers and other products since the 1970s to keep costs down…” only serves to tighten the noose already around the neck of the pink slime producers. Because it shows that for 40+ years the industry has got away with pulling the wool over the eyes of the consumers. The industry never had a brand name for this product, because the moment they had would have highlighted the products inclusion as an additive. So this wasn’t an oversight by the industry, it was pure deception.

This product or any future facsimile of the same will never succeed in this day and age of social media where you have a whole new generation of more aware people. In the past you could bluff your way through almost anything, even bribe the mainstream media not to mention it (governaments do that all the time).

Social media has put an end to that.

Jason Karpf (above) is right, the food industry, and all other producers, have a lot to learn about the new consumer. You can’t dodge issues as in the past, the game isn’t baseball anymore, it’s a whole new ball game.

I certainly feel sorry for the 850 workers who have lost their jobs, especially in these times of economic woes. But the blame can be squarely placed on the companies whose lust for profits have put them on the dole (unemployment, not sure if Americans use the term ‘dole’) line. There is no fault with Jamie Oliver, nor anyone who has spread the word.

As advice to anyone in the job market, you can see that there are now  new consideration; is the company honest? Do I want to work for a company that is not transparent? Is the product safe? Moral issues, instead of I need a job, any job will do.

The fate of pink slime should serve as a lesson to other food manufacturers. You can’t hide it anymore, come clean, clean up your act, or go out of business.

Basically, the answer to the question is, if it is rebranded the news would spread like wildfire, so best not to try. Forget it, put it in the too hard basket, find another way to make money.

NB: I am still uncertain about the possibility of ammonium hydroxide, that innocent sounding little ‘puff’ to kill bacteria, lingering in pink slime. “So, I cannot say that ammonium hydroxide is a bad thing in meat.  I can say that no one should be claiming it’s been proven to be a good thing.”Alternative Holistic Health Answers is a good article to read.

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