Panera’s Marketing Mistake


If you don’t already know who Dairy Carrie is, what rock are you hiding under?  Seriously, she’s everywhere.  I’m not here to discuss her whereabouts, though.  What has caught my attention, and almost everyone else’s, is her latest mission, if you will.  I feel fortunate to call Carrie a friend for so many reasons. She has a spare room we’re allowed to stay in when we visit Wisconsin, amazing taste in cheese, and great ideas about farming.  Most of all, though, her bad side is scary.

Carrie is known in part for her blog posts correcting misinformation regarding food and food production.  Recently, someone tipped her off about a Panera Bread ad campaign touting their antibiotic free chicken and ham.  You can read her first post about the issue on her blog. The post garnered so much attention that Carrie actually spoke to Panera Bread’s Chief Marketing Officer.  She also wrote about that experience, and the questions it left unanswered.

If you’re too lazy to read Carrie’s posts for yourself (there’s a pun here if you know much about the ad campaign), I’ll give you the quick version. Panera has begun using antibiotic free chicken and ham in their sandwiches. I’m absolutely okay with Panera using meat from animals raised differently than my own, but the campaign goes a little bit further.  Instead of discussing the merits of their own food, Panera insults those using other production methods by indicating that they are taking the easy road or that farmers using antibiotics may be lazy (there’s the pun).

Panera EZ Chicken
I borrowed this from Carrie’s first post. I believe it originated with the EZ Chicken twitter account.

In case you don’t know me well, I’m often a skeptic.  Carrie’s my friend, but I thought she must have been mislead.  This ad campaign seemed like an obviously horrible idea; it couldn’t be real.  I hadn’t heard the radio ads yet, and the twitter account had very few followers.  I reserved comment on the issue until I had a chance to check it out for myself.  Sure enough, though, right there on Panera’s home page, there it was. EZ Chicken was (and is) very real.

This whole thing is especially shocking considering that Panera is serving a lot more than chicken and ham in their restaurants, and their other ingredients most likely come from farmers who use the very production methods they are insulting.  Before I go on, I’d like to clarify something Panera did not: all of their meat is antibiotic free; however, the animals that the rest of it came from were not raised without antibiotics, or at least their meat was not labeled that way.

We use antibiotics on our farm.  Not every single cow in our herd has had an antibiotic.  They have all been vaccinated for various diseases, but they are only given antibiotics when they are ill, as recommended by our veterinarian.  I believe it is our responsibility to care for our animals when they are sick, and I will not apologize for saving or improving their lives.  I also believe that as-needed antibiotic use is the standard that the vast majority of farms in the US follow.

The protocols used to raise a restaurant’s food really aren’t the issue at hand, though.  The restaurant has the right to choose what ingredients to purchase and how to prepare them, and we each have the freedom to choose whether to give our business to the restaurant. My beef with Panera is their marketing strategy.  Using fear of food safety to promote their product rather than promoting the actual merits of their product is wrong.  The fact that the company also included a dig at farmers work ethics (which is quite possibly what farmers are most proud of) just added insult to injury and a little fuel to the fire that is now the #pluckEZchicken campaign, led by my friend Carrie.

Carrie’s next step toward correcting the message is a petition you can find here that she hopes will get her (and some others) more time with Panera’s marketing team to attempt to straighten out fact and fiction regarding their food. Join the campaign, or don’t, that’s your choice.  All I ask is that each person who reads this realizes that the United States has one of the safest food supplies in the world, and regardless of the food choices that you make, you can rest easy knowing that. As for Panera, I hope they recognize their marketing mistake. As for the Heims, we will no longer be eating at Panera.

2 thoughts on “Panera’s Marketing Mistake

  1. Antibiotic free does not mean 0% level of residue. It just just means below the “safe” level set by the FDA or USDA. Does your dairy dry treat cows with antibiotics? Those cows are not sick so as to require treatment are they? Or is that just for prevention purposes? Unless the meat comes from a farm that does not use antibiotics in the raising of an animal from birth to death, It cannot be truly called antibiotic free. Panera Bread sources its chicken from farms that do not use antibiotics in the raising of their chickens. As far as our food supply I wouldn’t be so sure it is as safe as you think. GMOs as a starter but that is a whole other can of worms!

    1. Gary,

      Thanks for your comment. I do understand that only meat from animals never treated with antibiotics can be labeled that way. I do not believe that I am exposed to antibiotics by eating meat not labeled that way, however. Also, if you read the Panera Bread website, the farms they purchase from will treat chickens as advised by a vet, but those that are treated, obviously cannot be labeled antibiotic free.

      We do dry-treat our cows as a preventative measure, as recommended by our veterinarian. Each cow is tested on the farm after 6 milkings after she comes fresh, usually about two weeks beyond the withholding period.

      The great thing about the US food supply is that if you’re not comfortable with certain production methods, you have alternative choices.

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