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Kristy Nudds   

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I’ve been watching A&W’s recent advertising campaigns with great interest over the last several months.

The Vancouver-based fast food chain has developed a “guarantee” to provide its customers with “simple, great-tasting ingredients sourced with care.” This includes the launch late last year of beef raised without the use of steroids or hormones, and most recently eggs from hens fed a vegetarian diet and chicken raised without antibiotics.


When our writer Treena Hein asked how the campaign was performing (see page 24), the answer from A&W was the customer response has been “phenomenal.”

The company says it’s providing customers with what they say they want, according to private data it collected, and customer visits to the chain have since been up.

It is clear that they are essentially focused on beating out their competition on the “taste factor” by linking how the product is raised with its flavour. In fact, A&W was voted as having the best-tasting burger in a recent survey by BrandSpark and recent television and web advertisements show a company store manager (portrayed by an actor) telling customers that the chicken sandwich, egg breakfast or beef burger they are eating on-camera is “naturally” sourced. Perhaps I’m being cynical, but the customer reactions make me giggle a little — their eyes get big with surprise and they say things like “wow,” “really?” and “I’m pleased to hear it.” The biggest focus is on taste — all the customers are shown to really be enjoying what they are eating. Of course any restaurant wants to be known for having food that tastes great, but the ads imply that the taste and how the product is raised/fed are correlated, which represents a significant shift in how food has been traditionally marketed by quick-serve restaurants.

Does the campaign rely on customer ignorance and blurred lines? Definitely, but that’s just good marketing.

But as one customer pointed out in one of the company’s video advertisements when told the chicken she was eating was raised without antibiotics, “No one ever talks about that.” Whether you agree with A&W’s marketing efforts or not, this customer hit the nail on the head.

That’s why Canadian Poultry hosted its first annual Canadian Poultry Sustainabilty Symposium, to start a conversation about the issues (including consumer perception) that will affect the long-term sustainability of the industry (read coverage from the conference starting on page 16). A&W is only one purchaser of poultry, but it’s not the only one looking to show the customers it cares about how and where its products are sourced. This isn’t just another trend; it’s become a major component of the Corporate Social Responsibility plans of all major food companies.

 As Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, senior manager, sustainability with McDonald’s Canada told symposium attendees, although customers don’t understand more complex issues, they are very aware of how such a large company can affect change.

Crystal MacKay, Farm and Food Care executive director, says we need to start talking about farming in a real way. She pointed to the situation in the U.K. 20 years ago where farmers and industry didn’t want to talk to consumers about what they do and why (with respect to animal welfare). As marketers tried to out-label one another, no real improvement to animal welfare was realized.

“We need to have a better conversation,” she said. Indeed we do.




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