Kraft’s No Good, Very Bad Week

Because metal has no place in cheese.

kraft-single-cheese-slices-package 2We’re going to guess that Kraft Foods is glad to have retained all 12 of its PR firms in a November 2014 agency consolidation, because it’s been a rough few days for the company’s cheese-related products.

First came the spectacular PR backfire after the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) — an organization supposedly geared toward helping families make healthier food choices — proudly slapped its “Kids Eat Right” label on Kraft Singles. Remember, this is a product so far removed from actual cheese that its packaging has to read “pasteurized, prepared cheese product.”

The response was swift and fierce, escalating far beyond skepticism and reaching full-on outrage in record time. Nutritionists, activists, and laypersons alike were both aghast at AND’s questionable decision and offended that Kraft seemed to consider its consumers dimwitted enough to buy into the clearly-undeserved health hype.

And then it got worse.

At Mother Jones, food and agriculture writer Tom Philpott cited a 2013 report “which documented the strong and ever-growing financial ties between the Academy and big food companies, including Kraft.”

Meanwhile, Marion Nestle, Ph.d, M.P.H., an NYU professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, wrote:

“Kraft is well known as a sponsor of AND…Such seals are usually money-raising gimmicks. I’m wondering if ‘proud supporter of’ means that Kraft pays AND for use of this seal. If so, I’d like to know what the seal costs.”

So on top of pushing nutritionally-questionable products on kids and families, Kraft was buying this meaningless health label from an organization the American public should be able to trust? Cue digital explosion of outraged tweets, posts and comments.

After the story was shared (and lambasted ceaselessly) on the Dietitians for Professional Integrity’s Facebook page, the AND sent an email statement to dietitians and other members of the AND, which read in part:

To all members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Let me begin by apologizing for the concerns caused by the education initiative with Kraft. The Academy and the Foundation are listening. As a member-driven organization, the Academy’s staff and leadership hear your concerns and welcome your input.

Unfortunately, recent news articles misstated a collaboration as a Kids Eat Right “endorsement” of Kraft Singles, and that it represents a “seal of approval” from Kids Eat Right, the Foundation, or the Academy. It is not an endorsement. It is not a seal of approval. We understand this distinction is of little consequence to many Academy members who are concerned with the perception. We are working on a solution.

In addition, we are working to establish a joint, member-driven Member Advisory Panel.

Yeah…in no way could a label ever be misconstrued as an endorsement or a “seal of approval!” It’s just for…what…decoration?? Good grief.

And if this whole debacle weren’t bad enough, Kraft has also just announced a recall of 6.5 million boxes of its signature Macaroni and Cheese product due to customers finding pieces of metal in their pasta.

While cute dinosaur branding gimmicks and iffy promo labels from questionable health organizations may be (sometimes succesefully) aimed at convincing people Kraft products are actual food, passing metal shards off as edible would prove a bit more difficult.

Someone needs crisis comms help like, yesterday.