Wal-Mart thrusts itself into the irradiated meat market

BENTONVILLE, AR: With the decision to sell irradiated meats at some of its stores, Wal-Mart has thrust itself into the middle of one of the more impassioned food-related debates in some time. However, the retail giant has been oddly quiet about communicating information about such products, leading industry observers to wonder if the company has been caught off guard from a PR perspective.

BENTONVILLE, AR: With the decision to sell irradiated meats at some of its stores, Wal-Mart has thrust itself into the middle of one of the more impassioned food-related debates in some time. However, the retail giant has been oddly quiet about communicating information about such products, leading industry observers to wonder if the company has been caught off guard from a PR perspective.

BENTONVILLE, AR: With the decision to sell irradiated meats at some

of its stores, Wal-Mart has thrust itself into the middle of one of the

more impassioned food-related debates in some time. However, the retail

giant has been oddly quiet about communicating information about such

products, leading industry observers to wonder if the company has been

caught off guard from a PR perspective.



The controversy surrounds the USDA’s February 22 approval of the use of

irradiation to kill various harmful bacteria in red meat.



’If nobody does it (a PR program touting the safety of irradiated meat),

the public will never, ever accept it,’ said Barbara Young,

editor-in-chief of meat industry trade publication The National

Provisioner. ’I don’t think meat processors have done a good job of

keeping this issue before the public.’



So far, industry trade associations and companies that perform the

irradiation process have taken the lead in public education efforts.

Several of these groups, for example, co-sponsored a PR event featuring

the grilling of an irradiated hamburger in DC the day the USDA approval

was issued. Food Technology Services, a food irradiation facility, is

working with Shandwick for consumer press relations on the irradiation

issue and with CMF&Z for trade press relations.



Wal-Mart spokesperson Tom Williams was tight-lipped about the retailer’s

PR plans regarding irradiated meat, saying only that the company has a

relationship with Fleishman-Hillard. He declined comment on whether the

agency will be working on a specific PR campaign to tout the benefits of

irradiated meats.



In any case, it is clear that Wal-Mart’s decision to test-market

irradiated beef could arouse greater awareness of the issue than ever

before.



’This is the best PR you could get,’ said Gene Grabowski, VP of

communications for the Grocery Manufacturers of America, of Wal-Mart’s

plans. ’The Wal-Mart announcement is going to create enough interest and

activity to keep irradiation in the headlines for the next couple of

months.’



Mark Klein, communications manager for meat processor Excel, currently

has no plans for a large-scale PR offensive. But Excel hasn’t been

completely silent on the PR front, either. The company has been doing

public education work with health officials and others within the food

service sector.



’It’s important for health officials to have information on

irradiation,’ he said. ’They are the health experts, and the potential

consumer-opinion shapers.’



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in