Foster Farms Says: Dump the Plump!

Foster Farms believes that consumers should know the real deal when buying chicken.

The family-owned poultry-products company this week launched a Facebook sweepstakes bashing the industry practice of “plumping” chickens with 15 percent saltwater. (Many of these products are later labeled “natural,” and the consumer “pays more” for saltwater, Foster Farms maintains.)

“Say NO to Plumping, Say Yes to Free Groceries” is the sweepstakes’ rallying cry. It rewards one consumer with a year’s supply of groceries — the equivalent of $5,000 worth of free food, the company estimates.

Its Facebook page dedicated to the effort lets consumers enter by providing their e-mail addresses.

The sweepstakes takes place in two parts: In stage one, Foster Farms awards three randomly selected fans prizes of $1,000, $500 and $250 once the Facebook page hits 50,000 followers. The prizes soon increase to $2,000 and $1,000 — apart from the grand award — once the number reaches 100,000.

The client is using the sweepstakes as part of a larger strategy to grow its social media presence, though only residents of California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Hawaii and other Pacific states may enter the sweepstakes, as Foster Farms does business primarily on the West Coast.

“Say NO to Plumping” is the latest extension of the marketer’s 18-month campaign touting “fresh, all natural chicken.” The anti-plumping effort actually began with a series of television ads by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners containing the company’s popular mascots — a pair of shaggy “Imposter” chickens.

Those ads, which won a 2010 Gold Effie Award for advertising effectiveness at the industry awards show last month, typically open with the two “bloated” chickens admiring their own plumpness.

Foster Farms also collected more than 50,000 signatures from consumers as part of a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban the word “natural” from poultry containing saltwater or preservatives.

Ira Brill, marketing and advertising director for Foster Farms, said the overall effort taps into the current ingredient transparency/sodium reduction trend.

In recent years, food companies including Campbell Soup and Frito-Lay have taken steps to cut salt and disclose ingredients to consumers. The poultry industry shouldn’t be any different, Brill said.

Prior to Foster Farms’ “Say NO” campaign, there was virtually “no awareness” of chicken plumping, at least on the West Coast, Brill said. Though smaller natural poultry purveyors also avoid the use of hormones or saltwater, none have the advertising budget of Foster Farms. (The company spent $14 million in measured media last year, excluding online, per Nielsen.)

While the bulk of its efforts have been in TV and PR, Brill said Foster Farms is now turning to social media as a way to make marketing dollars work harder while building a robust base of online brand devotees. The sweepstakes, for example, is a “very cost-effective way to bring some people to a [brand’s] Facebook home page,” he said. Foster Farms worked with social marketing platform Involver to launch the sweepstakes.

Though the Facebook sweepstakes just began, Brill said he’s been pleased with Foster Farms’ efforts in this space thus far. Its campaign highlighting the injection of saltwater in chickens has resulted in media coverage in The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times, an uptick in sales and proposed regulations governing the use of the term “natural” on chicken products.

Brill said part of the reason the campaign’s taken off is because consumers increasingly “are paying attention to what they eat and how the food is prepared.”