NEW YORK: Bird flu fears and misconceptions have some of America's largest chicken retailers quietly preparing for a widespread crisis response in the US.
Popeyes Chicken & Biscuits has hired two agencies as crisis management and media advisers.
The chain restaurant has also set up an Avian Flu Task Force on which its PR team will be represented, according to Alicia Thompson, VP of communications and PR.
However, Thompson added that Popeyes is being careful not to feed into the hysteria, and is directing its outreach toward franchisees.
"We're very focused on the internal aspects," she said.
Contracts with the undisclosed agencies had not been signed as of press time.
Talking points will address the fact that properly cooking and handling food can eliminate the risk of bird flu transmission.
"We are working to make sure that all of those processes are taking place within our restaurants," Thompson said.
KFC has also crafted a media and advertising response in case of a bird flu outbreak. It will even address the issue in point-of-sale materials, if necessary.
"Hopefully we'll never have to use any of [those tactics]," said Jonathan Blum, SVP of public affairs. "It's a contingency plan."
The company, which works with Weber Shandwick, developed the plan in-house.
The National Chicken Council, meanwhile, is conducting outreach to farmers.
"We think the most effective thing right now is to get out the facts," said Richard Lobb, director of communications.
In particular, the council is stressing that the US does not import chicken from countries impacted by bird flu as well as clarifying how it is spread.
"It's not a food issue," Lobb said.
The disease, which has not yet been seen in the US, has also caused problems for Roche, maker of Tamiflu, the only drug known to treat the disease.
The drug company is working with Fleishman-Hillard to address concerns over whether it could produce enough Tamiflu in the event of a pandemic. It is also defending its decision to let only a handful of generic drug makers help supply the drug.
At least one company that seems to have benefited from bird flu fears ended up having to do damage control.
Men's Health magazine suggested in October that drinking Welch's grape juice could protect against the virus, and the rumor quickly spread through the media.
Jim Callahan, Welch's director of corporate communications, said, "Even by silence, we don't want to be supporting something that hasn't been proven."
Welch's addressed the rumor with a statement on its website and by sending letters to outlets that had run the story.