Future of Backlash Seen in ‘Pink Slime’ Case


Early last month, a former scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture did an interview with ABC News. He stated that 70% of ground beef sold in U.S. supermarkets contains an ingredient he described as “pink slime.”

Within three weeks, Beef Products Inc., the largest supplier of the ingredient, which the industry had previously described as “lean finely textured beef” or “boneless lean beef trimmings,” had been forced to suspend operations at three of its four U.S. plants.

There were no illness outbreaks or safety concerns associated with the ingredient or the company, but in the face of growing consumer outrage expressed on Facebook, Twitter, online petition sites and blogs, food retailers bailed on BLBT en masse.

If their suppliers used BLBT, they told them to stop. In the space of two days, Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu and Ahold USA all announced plans to pull the ingredient.

If their ground beef did not contain BLBT, chains including Publix, Costco and Whole Foods were sure to notify the media. Fresh & Easy even used the uproar as an opportunity for a marketing stunt. During their “Pink Slime Swap Meat” last week, the company offered customers the chance to trade in suspect beef from other stores for Fresh & Easy’s BLBT-free beef.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack had a press conference in Des Moines last week in an attempt to counter negative public perception. Branstad also planned to accompany Govs. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rick Perry of Texas on a tour of the remaining Beef Products Inc. plant near Sioux City, S.D., in an effort to restore the company’s image.

That may not be possible. The term “pink slime” is evocative, disgusting and now it is stuck in shoppers’ heads. They’ve also seen the unappealing photos — mostly erroneously captioned photos of mechanically separated chicken — that have accompanied many of the online news stories. This genie is not going back in the bottle.

Most food retailers have dealt with major or minor public relations crises before. This is one of the first in which social media has played a major role, and it has made it obvious that supermarkets will need to be on their toes going forward. Because while it is becoming clear that social media can help the public seize an obscure issue and blow it out of proportion within days, it’s never clear what consumers will seize on next.

Discuss this Blog Entry 2

Anonymous (not verified)
on Apr 4, 2012

This is why the price consumers pay IF THEY WANT LEAN Ground Beef for their meal preperation will go up! Absolutely for no good reason! So called "X Scientists" should learn to keep their mouths shut if thay can't say something inteligent during an interview with the Media! With today's anial retentive Scoiety, unable to think for themselves who are going to hang on every word some idiot utters then, we're in for some "Rough Sailing"! With all this attention this idiot's gotten he and the other's like him are bound to be in, "Hog Heaven," pun intended.

Ziontrain (not verified)
on Apr 5, 2012

The industry is not being honest with itself and that includes industry media such as this very publication.

Why do I say that? Well on the one hand the article opines that this is social media "blown out of proportion". Okay.....but....on the other hand, the article offers hard facts that "Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway, Supervalu and Ahold USA all announced plans to pull the ingredient."

Hmmm, did anyone bother toa dd up the market share of those companies? If ALL those companies are using an igredient that consumers find disgusting and breach of trust, then surely there certainly was a HUGE problem here.

What we should be asking is why YOU folks didnt bring up the hard questions that consumers would want to know.

Or then again maybe that's why you have a hard time coping with the truth.

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Liz Webber

Liz Webber is Engagement Director / Fresh Market Editor at Supermarket News. She covers fresh foods for the magazine and creates multimedia, blog posts and other content for the website. She joined...

Elliot Zwiebach

Elliot Zwiebach has been with Supermarket News for more than 45 years — a span difficult for him to comprehend, having once been the youngest reporter on the staff. During that time he has...
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