National Peanut Board adds energy to consumer outreach

In January 2009, salmonella contamination at a Peanut Corporation of America manufacturing plant, which supplied ingredients to many brands, led to the recall of 3,000-plus products.

Client: National Peanut Board (Atlanta)
PR agency: GolinHarris (Atlanta)
Campaign: Resumption of Consumption
Duration: March-October 2009
Budget: $395,000

In January 2009, salmonella contamination at a Peanut Corporation of America manufacturing plant, which supplied ingredients to many brands, led to the recall of 3,000-plus products. Information Resources, Inc. (IRI) data showed peanut butter sales fell 19.42% last January compared with January 2008.

"Consumption of all things peanut was dealt a serious blow," says Raffaela Marie Fenn, president and MD of the National Peanut Board (NPB), which represents 10,000 peanut farmers.

She says the NPB's job was to rebuild consumer trust and reverse the sales decline.

Fenn explains that the NPB had an integrated program in place that included unveiling a new slogan - "Peanuts: Energy for the Good Life" - and consumer and trade events. AOR GolinHarris helped adapt and expand existing plans to manage fallout from the crisis. Ad/marketing firm Lawler Ballard Van Durand also helped.

Golin SVP Mark Dvorak says the key was to keep consumers from unilaterally rejecting peanut products.

The plan was to let peanut farmers and their families serve as the main spokespeople.

"Farmers have credibility," says Dvorak. "By employing farmers you remind people that one manufacturer caused problems - it wasn't all peanuts."

Independent food safety experts, nutritionists, doctors, and chefs assisted messaging efforts.  The team sought to directly engage at least 40,000 consumers at New York events; 100,000 in other markets; and to get people to use peanut butter again.

Dvorak says NPB's Web site,, served as a key early source to inform the public about recalled and safe products. The team created to communicate updates, recipes, chef tips, and more. It also established Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr accounts to engage consumers and professionals.

The team conducted comprehensive message and media training for 50 people, including growers and their families, staff, as well as food and health experts. Media outreach included general consumer, health and lifestyle, culinary, and trade outlets. Food and mommy bloggers were also targeted. Iron Chef Michael Symon and a dietitian conducted an SMT, while a pediatrician did a media tour.  

On March 4 and 5, a press conference was held in Grand Central Terminal, where a field of peanut plants was installed. Manufacturers and farmers were on hand to talk about peanuts and provide samples. The new slogan was unveiled. A "grower tour" consisting of similar events followed in nine major cities.

A tasting event where five celebrity chefs prepared peanut-related dishes was also held on March 4 for culinary influencers, media, and bloggers. NPB also announced a major donation to the Food Bank for New York City and leveraged that to reach other food banks that were afraid to distribute peanut butter.

IRI data shows peanut butter volume sales rose every month since March 2009 (compared to 2008). May (24.7%) and August (18.6%) saw the most gains.

A February NPB consumer study revealed that only 27% resumed eating peanut butter. A May follow-up study showed that number had risen to 70%.

The grower tour reached about 200,000 consumers, including 50,000 in New York. The campaign garnered nearly 270 million media impressions.

NPB now has 205 Facebook fans and 344 Twitter followers.

Golin will remain AOR. Fenn says "Peanuts: Energy for the Good Life" is NPB's platform now, and the team will extend this message going forward.

PRWeek's View
Harnessing the passion and knowledge of farmers played a vital role in helping to restore consumer confidence. The team did an outstanding job of retooling existing plans, as well as providing positive information about safe products, along with facts about contamination, manufacturing, and growing practices. It was also wise to put health and food experts forward and to expand the conversation to include health benefits, samples, and recipes. These efforts did more than just restore confidence, they moved the needle.

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