Saint Louis Bread Co. Insults Farmers Via Twitter

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       The EZChicken-less campaign. | Panera Bread Company
  •        The EZChicken-less campaign. | Panera Bread Company

Corporations are still trying to navigate the tricky world of social media. Of course, you can't please everyone, and an account with hundreds of thousands of followers is going to get a few nasty tweets. Companies are wisely learning to utilize Twitter for marketing purposes, with varying degrees of success. The Chipotle Twitter "hack" was funny at best, and at worst, it was simply stupid. But now Saint Louis Bread Co. (we refuse to say Panera) has farmers across the country up in arms over its latest Twitter campaign.

See also: - Chipotle Twitter Hack Was Just a PR Stunt - Panera Bread Debuts Slow-Carb Hidden Menu in St. Louis Today - Mob Testimony Gives Panera Bread Awesome Ad Opportunity

Bread Co. launched a now-deleted Twitter account called @EZChicken to promote its latest push for antibiotic-free chicken. The account posted several cartoons of a chicken (shaped like a pill, natch) with captions such as, "I dreamt I was running. Does that count as working out?" and "Hard work pays off eventually. But lazy pays off now" (that one has the antibiotic-stuffed chicken inexplicably on a wooden Segway).

Farmers across the country are not pleased. Bread Co. isn't the first food chain to rally for antibiotic-free poultry, but many of the agrarians who responded on Twitter pointed out that, by the way, the drugs are used to help sick animals, just like people. Others are upset that Bread Co. is using fear to sell food.

Bread Co. has actually been sourcing antibiotic-free chicken since 2004, but it seems that no one really knew about it, hence the marketing push. Vice president of public relations Linn Parrish tells Gut Check that Bread Co. has been working to build up its antibiotic-free chicken sources over the past ten years, hence the "hard road." "It was very hard to get this chicken nine, ten years ago. So we think we've been on the hard road working with farmers over these nine years to raise more chickens that have never, ever been treated with antibiotics," Parrish says.

Next: Just a misunderstanding?

Blogger Dairy Carrie, a Wisconsin dairy farmer, wrote an open letter to the company and actually got a response from its chief marketing officer, Michael Simon. The campaign has been removed from the website, but obviously the #EZChicken hashtag is still out there. You can see the pulled campaign here.

The real problem seems to be that instead of promoting the fact that Bread Co. is using antibiotic-free chicken (which it says tastes better), the company went with a negative ad campaign -- something that rarely goes well, even for politicians. Parrish says that Bread Co. understands why a farmer would use antibiotics to help a sick animal, but then that animal can't be sold as antibiotic-free.

"We were dismayed to see that our point had been misinterpreted, and some farmers took it out of context," Parrish says. "We were trying to say that we took the hard road that was more difficult, building up the food supply. But we heard, we listened and we acted, and the campaign has been removed."

What do you think -- did Bread Co. cross the line?

Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at nancy.stiles@riverfronttimes.com or follow her on Twitter.


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