I WASN'T surprised when Panera Bread started playing the crunchy granola theme with its cartoonish attack on how most food is produced — or that Chipotle played the same silly game.
They are both chains that tried desperately to attract foodies and "people who lunch" with a purer-than-thou message.
They've always talked about the hearts and flowers aspect of the American diet while ignoring the science. I sometimes think their stores should be decorated with the kind of kitschy art you find on Hallmark cards just before Valentine's Day.
However, I can't believe Perdue Farms is taking that same Looney Tunes route and letting a cutesy cartoon figure of chairman Jim Perdue be its spokesperson when Foghorn Leghorn would have done a better job.
It is part of the company's "We Believe in a Better Chicken" campaign, which began with an earlier ad claiming that Perdue has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to go further and inspect every step of the company's chick-to-supermarket distribution channel.
The centerpiece is Perdue's "we only feed our chickens a vegetarian diet" statement.
Before reading on, if you haven't seen the ad, it's posted at www.ispot.tv/ad/7ZF_/perdue-farm-vegetarian-diet .
One of my vegan friends was astounded when he saw the ad. He wondered why Perdue would suggest that an all-vegetarian diet is good for the chicken but not the human.
I'm wondering why Perdue would mention that it banned blood and bone meal in its poultry feed and proclaimed that it doesn't use any added hormones or steroids, suggesting, in a sense, that everyone else in the poultry business is not quite so pure?
I can just about hear the constructive feedback Big Jim might get the next time he drops by a National Chicken Council marketing committee meeting: "Hey, Jim, you know that old marketing truism about a rising tide floats all boats? Thanks for sinking the ship, old buddy."
Maybe the anti-biotechnology crowd will enter the fray and ask, "Hey, Jim, why not get rid of the corn and soybeans, too, or label your chickens with: 'Contains no GMOs'?"
So, would Perdue be willing to really go totally crunchy granola and feed its flocks a steady diet of marigold seeds? It would be placed in the awkward position of answering pointed questions about why it insists on artificially coloring its chickens.
American agriculture should expect to be "panned by Panera" and shouldn't be shocked by a potshot from Chipotle. After all, they're marketing to a crowd so far removed from the farm that it's easier to play to their romantic notions of what should be on their plate than to try to explain the realities of a good diet.
Being broadsided like this from a major player in our own business, though? Sometimes, we are our own worst enemies.
*Chuck Jolley is president of Jolley & Associates, a marketing and public relations firm that concentrates on the food industry.