OAK BROOK, Ill. — Companies involved with animal agriculture
are at a crossroads for transparency.
“We’re in a new realm of communication and at a crossroads
of trying to figure out how to tell our story,” said Julie Berling, director of
brand advocacy and marketing for the GNP Co. “We need to be transparent, and
consumers want to know more, but a lot of times they really don’t.”
GNP, based in St. Cloud, Minn., markets chicken through the
Just Bare and Gold’n Plump brands.
“We just did research on a new packaging design that had an
illustrated chicken like a cartoon drawing,” said Berling during a presentation
at the North American Strategy Session, hosted by the Center for Food Integrity.
“Several consumers said don’t remind me the chicken came from a live
Berling often reminds those at her company that even if they
do everything right, the perception still is they might me doing something wrong
just because of the reality of their business.
“We’re acutely aware we owe our chickens our livelihood,”
“We need to give consumers accurate facts and images when it
comes to raising, handling and processing a chicken,” she said. “And we must
tell our story with full disclosure in a way that’s honest, but not
Making sure the chickens are healthy and happy is the
responsibility of the company, Berling said, and the company must prove its
“We can’t just say we do what we do. We have to find ways to
validate that,” she added.
The challenge is to reconnect the farmer to the consumer in
a way that shows the people who are producing the food.
“We all are supporting the same basic values — safe food for
my family, good nutrition and products that were produced in a responsible
manner,” Berling said.
It is important, she said, to talk about today’s American
farmer, not the farmer from the 1930s.
In 1930, 21 percent of the workforce was employed in
agriculture, Berling said.
“Today, less than 1 percent are farmers,” she noted. “In
1930, each farmer fed nine people, and today he is feeding 155 people.”
When providing information to consumers, Berling said,
“don’t sell, but tell your story” and don’t use corporate speak. “Be real about
what you talk about.”
GNP has added a traceability element to its products.
Consumers can trace a package of chicken back to the farm it came from by
entering the code from the package on the Internet.
“That brings you to the page that shows the farm family,”
“We need to see the story through the consumer’s eyes,” she
said. “Before we used words that were all focused on the negative, so we had to
change our conversation to focus on positive aspects of what we do.”
It’s about respect, and it’s not always about being
“We know vegetarianism is on the rise, so the question is
not how we stop meatless Mondays, but how we become part of the conversation and
become the meat of choice when meat is served,” Berling said.
She advises companies to be fearless with the facts and
focus on the issue — not the extreme.
“Most people are in the middle,” she said. “Address the
extreme, but focus on the middle.”
GNP publishes an annual Farm to Fork report that focuses on
the four Ps — people, planet, poultry and progress.
“For our poultry, we talk about animal welfare certification
through the American Humane Association,” Berling said. “And we talk about our
active grower management program where we drive accountability back to each of
our growers to make sure they’re doing what they need to do.”
Before the development of social media, it took days for
news to spread, she noted.
“In the world of social media, it now takes not even a
second,” she said. “So we need to respond with speed and bravery.”
Companies should have a plan in place.
“If you don’t get in that conversation early, you’ll be left
out of the conversation,” Berling said.