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Cupcakes I made the first time I experimented with pastry tips; photo by me.

Cupcakes- How can you resist?

I think I have successfully branded myself as “that girl who loves cupcakes.” Okay, so maybe it was as easy as just squealing at the sight and mention of them. It also doesn’t hurt that I tend to bake them for everyone– from my closest friends, to my entire accounting class (yes, that did happen). Anyway, as a result, people associate me with cupcakes. And friends keep sending me texts about cake. 

Sometimes this means picture messages of the desserts they’re about to consume and sometimes they’re just alerting me about a new cupcake TV show they’re excited about. My friends and family have also begun to give me really fun gifts like cupcake-shaped stationary, magnets and lip glosses (cupcake shape AND flavor). While I absolutely adore that my name seems to pop into others’ heads upon the mention of cupcakes, I have to wonder how the cupcake came to appear so often in American culture in the first place. 

Because I’m sure you’ve noticed. Cupcakes are everywhere in 2010. 

Beautiful cupcakes; photo by Benjamin Earwicker, taken from stock.xchng

If only these rows were never-ending.

The ultra-trend 

Sure, we’ve seen food trends before. Certain foods like sweet potato fries and chipotle mayo seem to gain popularity and then proceed to show up on menus and in dishes everywhere. But rarely do popular foods begin appearing places other than on plates. 

Cupcakes appear to have grown into something even bigger than just a food trend. Borderlining on a lifestyle. They seem to have sprinkled their sparkly pink magic on America and it’s quite possible they are taking over. 

In addition to cupcake boutiques popping up in almost every city (some gaining much fame), bigger businesses such as Cinnabon have begun to get in on the cupcake craze as well. Food trends, as these companies have discovered, definitely lead to profits. Heck, even Taco Bell attempted to join the market. 

These cute little things have become such a phenomenon that news organizations are trying to guess what will come next when the cupcake frenzy dies down. Others simply cannot wait until it does. 

The power of pastry 

Because this is my cupcake post (me– that girl who loves cupcakes!) and I am really reveling in my research process, I have for you a list of cupcake-related items. Just to prove how ubiquitous cupcakes truly are. 

And my favorite: 

  • A $59.99 child-sized “Cupcake Fairy” Halloween costume. She has a wand, antenna and wings.

I personally believe that cupcakes have a universal power of making people happy. And any food that can produce smiles just by existing is a good thing.

Lettuce and beets growing. Photo by Christa Richert, taken from stock.xchng

Triscuit and Kraft want you to start a community garden.

I think I’m the target audience for Triscuit’s Home Farming campaign ads. They keep popping up during my Food Network shows and in my Real Simple magazine. Or maybe they pop up everywhere, including places I wouldn’t see them like ESPN and car magazines, but I like to group myself in the foodie demographic and I hope marketers do too. Anyway, I wanted to learn more about the campaign and have since learned several things:

  1. Triscuit, a product of Kraft Foods, has teamed up with the non-profit Urban Farming to grow 50 community farms across the country.
  2. It has also launched a website encouraging consumers to plant their own gardens. The site includes instructions and tips for growing ingredients at home.
  3. Though Triscuit is contributing to a good cause, local gardening and sustainability, people have noticed that the corporation behind the campaign is potentially part of the reason the home gardening movement has grown so much over the years.

Counterproductive cracker campaign

This post by Laura Mathews on Punk Rock Gardens, a community gardening blog out of Pennsylvania, questions Triscuit’s and Kraft Foods’ motives. While the Home Farming campaign promotes home gardening and local eating, it is still being presented by Kraft Foods, a major producer of processed and prepackaged food. Mathews says Kraft is attempting to use this campaign to position its products as containing real ingredients, ignoring the fact that they’re really full of unnatural additives. She writes:

OK, it’s nice that a big company believes there a lot of interest in growing food. Enough interest, actually, that they want to grab on and join the gravy train.  BUT, what I understand about the people who are taking back control of their food supply, is that they –we- became interested in growing food because we lost faith in the quality of food produced by companies like Kraft.

If you’re interested, read the rest of her post. It’s really good and it brings up a lot of great points.

Fried chicken and salad. Photo by Rob Owen-Wahl, taken from stock.xchng

Does eating fried chicken on top of lettuce make it healthier? What about eating it when the proceeds contribute to curing cancer?

Colbert’s conclusion

The whole idea of large corporations launching campaigns attempting to solve problems they may have contributed to reminded me of this utterly fantastic clip from the Colbert Report in April (seriously, watch it if you have time- it’s great. Skip to 1:13 to get right to the campaign part). In it, Colbert discusses how people were questioning KFC’s Buckets for the Cure campaign.

During the campaign, KFC donated 50 cents for each pink bucket of chicken sold to the Susan G. Komen for the cure, the non-profit that raises money for breast cancer research. However, as Colbert mentions in the clip, many people were upset at the idea of promoting the sale and consumption of unhealthy fried chicken to raise money for an organization that is working to save women’s lives.

He has his own theory on what to do to remedy KFC’s potential hypocrisy. I have my own. KFC, Kraft and all other corporations and organizations should think about what their campaigns say about their brands before they launch them. And consumers should consider what matters most to them: that companies are helping to solve problems when their products cause other ones or that the companies are helping at all.

Craving comments

So what do you think? Should people just appreciate these corporate campaigns for the help they’re supplying others? Or should we question the motives (and profit) behind them? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Delicious pepperoni pizza. Photo by Stephen J. Sullivan, taken from stock.xchng.

People are notoriously picky about their pizza. Did Domino's earn new customers with its new taste?

Ever since I saw the Domino’s ads about its new pizza recipe at the beginning of the year, I wanted to write a post about its campaign. You know, the one where its chefs went on TV and repeated all the horrible things people were saying about its old pizza, while assuring you it’s much better now. Being an observer of food PR, I had to wonder how effective this campaign would be when I first saw it.

Pizza trashing

Yes, the company is following the favorite PR rule of transparency and honesty,  but really? Would this campaign improve sales and image? What would consumers thinks? Would people run out to try the new recipe? To be honest, I wanted to wait to post about this until after I had tried the new stuff, so I could add a fun personal anecdote of my trial. However, the commercials apparently did not motivate me enough to spend money/time on it. (It also didn’t help that I recently started making homemade healthy-ish pizzas that I happen to love.)

Apparently, product-trashing campaigns are not a rare occurrence. This article in The Washington Post discusses similar successful campaigns and features interesting information on Domino’s motivation for its product-change.

The results are in

Slashfood’s Leslie Pariseau just wrote a post on the current results of Domino’s newest campaign. Though I had my skepticism, it appears the campaign is working! Pariseau reported a 14.3 percent sales increase in this year’s first quarter, with sales expected to continue to rise.

Upon further examination of this campaign, I’m not surprised. Domino’s did a fantastic job promoting its Pizza Turnaround campaign and sharing with consumers why it was necessary to start completely over with its pizza recipe. Even though I haven’t tried it so don’t know if I would continue to buy it, watching its promotional video made me want to try the new pizza more than ever.

The documentary features interviews with Domino’s executives and employees discussing their reactions to consumers’ negative comments toward its old recipe pizza. Viewers get to see the effects comments like “microwave pizza is far superior” had on the people who represented and made it every day. Domino’s motivation for improving its product is made clear in this video. The company obviously cares about pleasing and retaining customers, and producing a product its employees can be proud to produce. The video was pretty effective, because it made me want to care about these nice people right back.

Domino’s President Patrick Doyle in Pizza Turnaround video:

You can either use the negative comments to get you down or you can use them to excite you and energize your process of making a better pizza. We did the latter.

The video shows the process of coming up with a new, tastier pizza recipe. Domino’s chefs discuss the taste and quality of the ingredients it now uses. I’m not gonna lie… the vivid descriptions and images definitely made me hungry for pizza. Good job Domino’s, you may have just gained another new customer for lunch tomorrow.

[Side note: I apologize for the lapse between posts. I have not given up my love for food, PR or writing, so I fully intend to keep up the blogging---starting now. Food news and publicity are everywhere, so it shouldn't be a hard task! Thanks for reading!]

Fresh watermelon slices. Photo by Kudla Jana, taken from stock.xchng.

Juicy watermelon: Not just a summer staple.

Okay, so I’m just going to come out and say it. I absolutely love when an ordinary fruit or vegetable gets a PR makeover and emerges a more accessible, versatile ingredient before your very eyes. It’s like a 90′s chick-flick set in your grocer’s produce section.

I was enthralled when the U.S. Potato Board transformed the boring old spud into a healthy, inexpensive meal option worthy of a Prom Queen title and overjoyed when Hunt’s used its Fairy Godmother magic on canned tomatoes (see past posts). My latest find is an organization attempting to make that star quarterback notice an old summer favorite, even during football season.

The scene

It’s February. You’re outside shoveling the snow in your driveway. When you finish, you go inside your warm home, take off your coat and boots and cozy up to your fireplace with a good book and a nice… slice of fresh watermelon?

Maybe not quite, but the National Watermelon Promotion Board is devoted to positioning the watermelon as a year-round fruit.

"Cookie Cutouts" NWPB's kids recipe idea. Picture from NWPB 2009 media kit.

The NWPB even uses watermelon to help celebrate Valentine's Day.

The action

In efforts to stimulate the watermelon industry, the NWPB provides the public with craft and recipe ideas, as well as watermelon nutritional facts and other benefits on its Web site. Last May, The NWPB launched What About Watermelon?, a blog devoted to sharing the watermelon’s many year-round uses with readers. To learn more about the blog’s purposes, read it’s first post written by Mark Arney, the NWPB’s Executive Director.

One of my favorite features of the blog is the weekly recipes reflecting the current season. In the fall and winter months, the recipes themselves help encourage the consumption of watermelon in cold weather. Some revolve around seasonal events and holidays, and some feature the fruit in warm and savory main-course applications that consumers may not usually consider.

The fact that the recipe titles are sometimes bizarre-sounding (recently posted was a recipe for a Super Bowl-inspired, football-shaped watermelon “cake” complete with cream cheese frosting and licorice decorations) is just further proof of how creative, innovative and hard-working the NWPB is getting in their efforts to promote the watermelon.

The suspenseful cliffhanger

Between the watermelon recipes, facts and stories featured every week on the What About Watermelon? blog, plus separate but similar features on the NWPB’s site, there is certainly no shortage of watermelon information available on the Internet. The tactics are backed by good intentions and creative ideas. However, I gather a feeling that the promotional materials are not being seen by a very large audience.

What About Watermelon? is still a fairly new blog and I see it doing very well if it continues to deliver interesting posts and inventive uses for the watermelon. The NWPB has an online newsroom where marketing materials are readily available for inquiring journalists. However, it has not updated its collection of press releases and news clips since 2007. In order to achieve positive results, it needs to continue its promotional efforts.

So, with a little bit more persistence from the NWPB, I do believe that America’s favorite green and pink summer treat can score a year-round seat at the popular kids’ lunch table.

Potted seedling, photo by SP Veres taken from stock.xchng.

"This used to be the news... but now it's a plant." Food Lion printed press releases on seeded paper.

Three weeks ago, Food Lion, the southeastern U.S. supermarket chain, opened its first “Green” store in Columbia, South Carolina. The store meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Certification standards and offers shoppers features like bike racks, an in-store recycling facility and environmental education kiosks.  

The chain promoted the store using a special Web page for the five months in between groundbreaking and grand opening, letting customers know what was approaching. When it finally opened on Dec. 10, press releases were issued to the media on special paper that when torn up and planted in soil, will sprout. 

Promotions 

In addition to cleverly encouraging journalists to do something they might dream about (ripping a press release to shreds), Food Lion reached out to consumers by creating a Web page dedicated to educating shoppers on the new green store. The page features a video highlighting the store’s environment-friendly features, an interactive quiz about the green store, a photo slide show of the store’s construction process and a list of tips for maintaining a “green” household. 

Jeff Wells of the blog WHRefresh thinks Food Lion’s promotional Web site was a step in the right direction as far as educating shoppers on sustainability, but says stores can do more: 

Marketing on the company homepage is great, but honestly, very few people casually visit their local supermarket’s website to learn about the latest initiative. Reach them through social media, put up signs in the store. Better still, give them a reason to visit your website by offering coupons, posting blogs and interesting (not just self-serving) videos. 

Shopping carts, photo by H Assaf from stock.xchng.

Food Lion thinks shopping should be a "green" activity, but some don't agree with their methods.

Reactions 

When Food Lion first began construction on the store in July, Columbia news station WIS-TV posted an article online about the store’s groundbreaking and Food Lion’s plans for it. Readers responded to the article and several were upset that the store was being built from scratch, instead of moving into an existing building. John commented: 

what’s greener, a lot full of trees or a food lion strip mall?   

I know they want to expand business, everyone does. But in the end, they are polluting more with this store than they were without it. Yes, it’s better than having a store that creates even more pollution, but wouldn’t it be even better to replace a current store with a green store instead of just adding more to the mess? 

Five months later, negative comments toward Food Lion continue to appear. In a recent post about the new green store, Hanna Raskin of Slashfood recounted some of Food Lion’s past lawsuits, including one involving spoiled meat. Raskin went on to write about the grocery chain’s attempt to reposition itself in the eye of the public, but the post’s comments show that many readers continue to associate the brand with its past. Tony R. said: 

Almost as filthy as Winn Dixie. Their meats are awful. They don’t need to go green….they need to shut down. 

With a similar sentiment, Chewy posted: 

Food Lion has always been green…try their meat. 

Next steps 

Clearly, Food Lion is trying hard to show the public that it cares about the environment and wants to help its shoppers easily transition to a “green” lifestyle. However, it appears some the chain’s PR should be directed toward further polishing its image in areas outside sustainability. 

I think Food Lion has demonstrated some very innovative thinking in both its initiatives and promotions, but as usual in public relations, there is still more work to be done.

In celebration of what is probably the biggest “food holiday” around, I present to you a tasting menu (if you will) of PR initiatives for some of your favorite Thanksgiving dishes. Grab a plate and enjoy!

Thanksgiving turkey from tyinquarter's article on ehow.com

Butterball is venturing into social media to help you cook your turkey perfectly.

Turkey

Though Butterball continues to be America’s go-to turkey-cooking expert through its famous “Turkey Talk-line,” the poultry company is expanding its expertise to money-saving Thanksgiving tips. This year, Butterball has paired its turkey hotline promotion with suggestions for hosting a Thanksgiving dinner on a budget. Its PR team dispersed a press release announcing its turkey coupons, recipes for using up leftovers so they don’t go to waste, potluck Thanksgiving idea and other dollar-stretching tricks.

The release also unveiled the latest expansion of Butterball’s turkey assistance to Facebook and Twitter. Both pages are monitored and updated by Butterball’s PR staff and encourage cooks to share information and connect with each other. Butterball is also using these social media sites to give individual advice to inquiring fans and followers. I think Butterball’s PR team is being smart by reaching out to its audience through social media and by providing them with the money-saving advice many consumers are seeking in this economy.

Stove Top Stuffing; photo from Kraft Canada

Spread the warmth this year with Stove Top.

Stuffing

To help encourage kindness and holiday cheer during tough times, Stove Top Stuffing has launched its Spread the Warmth campaign. “Stove Top Ambassadors” in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland are blogging about their experiences as they go around their cities serving food at shelters, handing out bus tokens on the streets, giving free hot chocolate to people who work outdoors and performing other good deeds on behalf of the Kraft product.

Stove Top is also sponsoring a Spread the Warmth contest asking consumers to write a 200-word essay explaining how they spread the warmth to those less fortunate than themselves. Stove Top will award the top three entrants $2,500 for personal use and $5,000 to their charity of choice. November 27 is the last day to enter.

This campaign aims to make Stove Top’s image synonymous with the word “warmth” in as many ways as possible. By encouraging good deeds and having their ambassadors dress in Stove Top logo hats and jackets (while passing out coupons and products as part of their kind acts), Stove Top is showing consumers that it is a brand that cares.

Cranberry topiary, photo from Ocean Spray

After you make your cranberry sauce, Ocean Spray has some cranberry craft ideas for you.

Cranberries

According to Ocean Spray’s Web site, cranberries are the “unofficial, official fruit of the holidays.” In alignment with this thought, Ocean Spray created Plan-It Thanksgiving, a subsite devoted to holiday entertaining. The site features helpful and creative tips for throwing holiday meals such as:

In addition to further promoting the use and consumption of cranberries (they seem to be mentioned on every page), Ocean Spray is positioning itself as an expert on hosting Thanksgiving. This could draw more consumers to think of Ocean Spray when they think of the holiday season.

Pumpkin pie from stock.xchng, taken by Mike Johnson

With the possible Libby's shortage, will you get your pumpkin pie this year?

Pumpkin pie

Did you hear there could be a shortage of Libby’s canned pumpkin this year? I did, almost every day this past week. Last Tuesday, many newspapers, blogs and TV news stations began reporting that Libby’s, America’s leader in canned pumpkin, is predicting a possible product shortage this year. Due to heavy rain this harvest season, pumpkin crops went bad before they were able to be picked. This caused Libby’s to run out of pumpkin to can until next year’s crop comes in.

Because Libby’s is used to make a lot of pumpkin pies this time of year (the brand even has its own “famous” recipe), news of this possible shortage traveled quickly. I commend the Libby’s (or Nestlé, Libby’s parent company) PR team for dispersing its bad news immediately to so many sources. I saw warnings that I may go without pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving on Yahoo! news, Twitter, Slashfood, the New York Times and several other news sites and food blogs. Libby’s did a great job of letting consumers know what happened before it was too late to purchase their canned pumpkin for this holiday season.

Have a happy and delicious Thanksgiving!

B.L.T. sandwich from stock.xchng, taken by John Evans

Hellmann's or Miracle Whip: Which do you prefer on your B.L.T.?

Condiments were flying during the mayo and mayo-alternative food fight that ensued this week. Hellmann’s launched a holiday campaign emphasizing the product’s “real” ingredients. Meanwhile, Miracle Whip, the Kraft brand sandwich spread that prides itself on having more “zip” than mayo, was in a full-on war with Stephen Colbert over its “don’t be so mayo” commercials.

Hellmann’s campaign

I first heard about the Hellmann’s Real Holiday Helpings campaign when Bobby Flay tweeted from its launch event Friday (yes, although I feel nerdy admitting it, I do follow Bobby Flay on Twitter). The campaign involves videos of Flay creating dishes using mayo, holiday recipes, behind-the-scenes videos exclusive to Hellman’s fans on Facebook and a chance for consumers to win a year’s supply of groceries.

The idea of “real food” is a key message of the Real Holiday Helpings campaign. Flay’s videos feature him demonstrating how to make the five recipes he created using Hellmann’s products. He uses the phrase “it’s all real food” at least once in each video and explains that Hellmann’s is made of eggs, oil and vinegar. Each video ends with the Hellmann’s logo above the tagline “It’s Time for Real.”

Miracle Whip vs. Colbert

On October 15′s “Colbert Report,” Stephen Colbert drew attention to Miracle Whip’s most recent commercials featuring the term “don’t be so mayo.” Colbert took great offense to the advertisements and proclaimed that he is pro-mayo, then showed his own spoof commercial for mayonnaise. Miracle Whip retaliated by taking out a full-page ad in various newspapers serving as an open letter to Colbert. The memo was written in a humorous tone and announced that Miracle Whip had purchased ads during every commercial break of Thursday’s “Colbert Report.”

Think about it, Mr. Colbert. In a sense, we will own you. We’re on a mission. We’re taking no prisoners. We’re raising Hell, man.

Miracle Whip proceeded to air several versions its commercials addressed to Colbert. One invited him to “come over to the other side where all is sweet and tangy.” Another explained the talk show host’s “vicious attack” on Miracle Whip to viewers:

During Thursday’s episode, Colbert addressed the situation:

Well Miracle Whip, I know when I’ve been bested. Thank you for buying ad time on my show because let’s face it. Revenue is down throughout the television industry and I could certainly use the money to buy more delicious mayonnaise.

Needless to say, fans of both products and of Colbert took stances on the issue and voiced their opinions online. Miracle Whip’s Facebook page wall is covered in comments (both negative and positive) about the Colbert feud. Chrissy Dunham wrote:

The marketing was pure genius all around! I never even paid attention to the add or took much stock into Colbert’s comments until Miracle Whip struck back! (By the way, the original adds were no where near as stupid some others I’ve seen recently.) And for those of you who think Colbert is somehow upset by such stupid …banter…Have you ever WATCHED his show? This is exactly the thing he thrives on! A tad idiotic, yet ultimately clever comebacks. It wouldn’t surprise me if they planned this stunt together – Either way, I thank you both Colbert and Miracle Whip for my fair share of entertainment this evening!

Battle for publicity

Though Hellmann’s holiday campaign launch is unattached to the Colbert/Miracle Whip feud, I believe it is somewhat related to Hellmann’s desire to compete with Miracle Whip in the mayo market. By getting a highly respected celebrity chef like Bobby Flay to endorse its products and by continuously pointing out that it uses all real ingredients (a jab at Miracle Whip?), Hellmann’s seems to be reminding consumers that it makes a superior product.

As for Miracle Whip, Thursday’s move was a creative and entertaining marketing stunt that fit its brand image well. Though it elicited many negative comments from consumers, it mostly drew attention to its product in a big way. Miracle Whip’s marketing team showed America how the spread differs from “boring” mayonnaise (implying Hellmann’s) and made it easy for fans of both products to take sides.

Perhaps Hellmann’s wasted their time hiring Bobby Flay… Stephen Colbert was willing to act as spokesman the entire time.

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