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ConAgra Pisses Off Food Bloggers in PR Gaffe

ConAgra thought they hit upon a brilliant marketing campaign when they decided to invite New York City area food and mom bloggers to a “restaurant” for a four course meal, only to surprise the bloggers by revealing that the main course and desert were replaced by ConAgra’s frozen products.

Smart, right?

Yeah. Not really.

Food bloggers reacted with a furious outcry and denouncement of ConAgra, backing the company into a corner where they were forced to apologize to the bloggers.

This is the invitation the bloggers received:

In today’s New York Times article about the kerfuffle, several bloggers are quoted voicing their disgust and disappointment with the event. Cindy Zhou of the blog Chubby Chinese Girl says this in a post about the incident:

The hosts sat on both ends and conversation was guided mostly by Phil. The topic revolved around food obviously, our preferences, childhood favorites, food memories. Then the focus shifted to healthy eating, fresh and local, seasonal, reading our labels, so on and so forth. Sort of like a Food Inc. panel if you will. I pointed out that the reason I ate organic, fresh and good food was because my calories are very precious to me, so I want to use them wisely. George would bring up, his time spent in France as a chef, his recipes, food and family. At this point, I’m thinking, maybe the two of them are into some Food Revolution movement like Jamie Oliver. Trying to change the way America is eating and thinking about food, which made sense to have bloggers there to contribute and spread the word.

So you can imagine her feelings of betrayal when the exact opposite is true. She goes on to say:

Our “guided” conversation was ALL based of eating better, feeding our kids, the concern of childhood obesity, farmers, eating fresh and local, seasonal ingredients, CSA… and the list goes on. Yet they were serving us a frozen meal, loaded with sodium. We brought up reading labels while we shop and being aware of what we eat, Phil and George agreed, yet this FROZEN MEAL/DESSERT had exactly what we were afraid of, ingredients I can’t pronounce nor understand.

Suzanne Chan  of Mom Confessionals had strong words about the event:

I was gently reminded this morning that this was an example of PR agencies undervaluing bloggers and their lack of care for my online reputation.  I was set up to promote this event to my readers and as such, when I’m excited I love to share.  I put my name out there based on the information I received from them and got burned in a big way.

Chef George Duran, who was responsible for drawing in some of the food bloggers, has been similarly slammed. The blog Food Mayhem addressed him in a post:

Apparently, you are ConAgra’s celebrity chef spokesperson.  We suppose every industrial food giant needs one, you may as well be the one to accept their money; but at what cost sir?  So ConAgra and you hock over-processed “food” such as Chef Boyardee and Reddi-Wip.  People have to get their nitrous oxide and disodium guanylate from someone, right?

According to the New York Times, the public relations firm Ketchum that helped plan the event stated:

“a high percentage of people who actually appreciated the event,” said Jackie Burton, director of corporate communications at Ketchum. “But we also understand that there were people who were disappointed and we’re sorry — we apologize that they felt that way.”

Ironically, ConAgra is incredibly supportive of the blogging community, sponsoring conferences and bloggers, but that has focused on the mom blogging community rather than food blogging. This event, in fact, might have done better with  mom bloggers exclusively instead of including food bloggers. But for now? Another lesson learned for the public relations community.

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