Issues Management: Activism on the Menu for Kraft

by PR Coach on April 3, 2013

Kraft Petition against food dye

Activists protest food dyes in Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese

Never underestimate the influence of two Mommy bloggers and the power of online activism.

A recent online petition at Change.org, has gathered more than 278,000 supporters protesting against food additives in several popular Kraft macaroni and cheese products.

Kraft uses two controversial chemical food dyes in its US macaroni products – Yellow #5 and Yellow #6. In the UK and elsewhere outside the US, the company uses natural coloring or other alternatives such as paprika.

Online Petition Against Kraft Food Dyes Gains Momentum

Activist and Food Babe Hani Vari

“Food Babe” Hani Vari

The two Charlotte, NC bloggers, Vani Hari and Lisa Leake, both have active blogs. The campaign started with a blog post on Feb 11th, 2013 by Hari titled Food Babe Investigates: How Food Companies Exploit Americans with Ingredients Banned in Other Countries.

Their campaign highlights the speed and ability of activists to generate a viral campaign quickly.

The phrase “Mommy bloggers” hardly does the two activists justice. Hari of Foodbabe.com has 23,800 followers on Twitter, 3,522 on Pinterest and 61,194 Facebook likes. She’s a management consultant, food activist, writer and is media and politically savvy.

Activist and real food blogger Lisa Leake

Real food blogger Lisa Leake

Leake describes herself as “a wife, mother, foodie, and blogger.” Her social reach at 100 Days of Real Food is even more impressive with 7,961 Twitter and 14,211 Pinterest followers and 382,662 Facebook likes.

In 10 days, the duo’s YouTube videoTell Kraft To Stop Using Dangerous Food Dyes in Our Mac & Cheese” has more than 31,500 views and more than 130 comments.

This campaign is just gaining momentum. Anyone remember Motrin or last year’s pink slime controversy in the meat processing industry?

Kraft’s Initial Response Inadequate

Kraft first responded indirectly to Hari and Leake’s petition with a letter on its own website. Sound corporate strategy for controlling your message but nonetheless a weak argument. The two activists then responded with more information about other additives not in non-US Kraft products.

In just three days, the petition gathered 30,000 signatures and Kraft then responded directly on Change.org. Petition supporters expressed dismay and within four days the number of signatures in support passed 200,000.

The biggest issue pointed to by critics is the additives are used in the US but not used outside the US by Kraft.

I’m not sure Kraft took the initial campaign seriously at first. The activists are now in full gear urging supporters to:

  • sign the petition
  • call Kraft directly by phone (toll-free numbers provided)
  • post in social media including Kraft’s Facebook Wall or Tweet concerns to @kraftfoods or @kraftmacncheese
  • e-mail specific brand managers whose addresses are provided
  • or vote with your wallet by not buying Kraft products.

Kraft’s claims of care and food quality are hard to justify. It uses additives in the US but finds alternatives in other markets when pressured. There’s no spinning this fact.

On April 1st in Chicago, Hari served mac ‘n cheese at a streetside public tasting event. Cameras rolling, she later presented the petition at Kraft head office.

While the company is feeling the pressure, spokespeople made no commitment to drop dyes from its products saying in a prepared statement “We carefully follow the laws and regulations in the countries where our products are sold.”

According to Food Babe Hari, Kraft has been overwhelmed with calls, e-mails, and comments in social media. The activists remain determined to force Kraft to change:

“We’d like to stress that Kraft has not only removed artificial dyes from their mac and cheese overseas, they have removed them – and replaced them with safer natural dyes – from almost ALL of their product lines including Lunchables, Trident Gum, Ritz Cheese Crackers, and Halls Cough Drops, just to name a few. And here in the US we are simply asking them to start with their flagship product, macaroni and cheese, which they reportedly sell 350 million boxes of per year. (No wonder they haven’t responded favorably to our petition yet.) But their lack of response is not going to stop us from trying to get them to take the lead on this small – yet significant and positive – change for our food industry.”

In addition to driving the campaign in social media, other tactics include media interviews, public food tastings with supporters and public appearances.

This is textbook New Age, grassroots, social media activism and it’s happening at hyper speed. The food industry ain’t seen nothing yet. Genetically modified foods (GMOs) are firmly in sight.

New consumers have clout, skill and social reach. They’re also providing what mainstream media thrive on – a David and Goliath battle.

Author: Jeff Domansky

Visuals: Change.org, Food Babe, 100 Days of Real Food

More Reading, Viewing on Kraft Yellow Petition:

Kraft served in mac ‘n’ cheese fight [Chicago Tribune]
Kraft meets with food bloggers about Mac & Cheese yellow food dye [Fox News]
Kraft Foods listens to the Food Babe — and then responds [Chicago Business Journal]
Kraft meets with bloggers protesting chemical additives in mac’n’cheese [Guardian]
Kraft On Future Of Artificial Food Dyes In Mac & Cheese: We Can’t Predict The Future [Consumerist]
Food-Safety Alert! [Dr Oz Show]
Kraft Mac and Cheese: Bloggers Want Food Dye Removed [ABC, Good Morning America]
Food bloggers take on Kraft Mac & Cheese [CNN]
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese chemical additives targeted by food bloggers [Guardian]
Bloggers to Kraft: Take Yellow Dye Out of Mac and Cheese [ABC News]
The War Against Macaroni and Cheese: Petition Asks Kraft to Remove Artificial Dyes [Yahoo]
American Foods Chockfull of Ingredients Banned in Other Countries [Mercola.com]