A hot topic in the public relations industry today is the carefully crafted image major food manufacturers are hiding behind in order to promote their goods. Since 2002, when the government instituted a national standard for organic foods, companies have been scrambling to get on the bandwagon. Market-savvy consumers are beginning to wonder just who owns the companies that are producing their food.
The image of the organic food manufacturer is that of a small farm; most likely operated by a caring, earth friendly family. The personification of the independent farmer adds to the propaganda surrounding organic foods and makes the consumer feel empowered while paying more for the products they use on a daily basis. Unfortunately, this image, as sweet as it may be, is probably not the truth. Large food companies such as Kraft and General Mills own more than a small portion of the organic foods market even though they don’t advertise.
Public relations teams for these large manufacturers are walking a fine line when it comes to disclosure versus corporate image. On one hand, admitting ownership of an organic food brand may tarnish the wholesome image of the brand, especially if consumers write it off as just one more offering from one of the world’s top food producing corporations. On the other hand, making full disclosure about ownership, if handled correctly, can showcase a company’s ability to embrace “green” technologies even if only a small portion of their inventory is organic.
If handled incorrectly, the company could lose valuable consumers due to perceived deception. As consumers become savvier about the products they buy, it is inevitable that parent companies of organic food manufacturers will be found out. Corporate information is readily available to those who seek it and the exposure of these large companies could wreak havoc on their bottom line. Consumers who shop for organic goods tend to be fiercely loyal and often have views which clash with corporate America. If those consumers were to discover that their once perceived earth friendly family is actually an international conglomerate, chances are that the company’s products would never again grace the shelves of the consumer’s home.
Companies like Kraft seem to have made a successful compromise by releasing their own line of organic foods. This was a brilliant public relations move. Not only does the company maintain brand loyalty but it shows that it has the ability to look to the future, perhaps gaining new consumers in the process.