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That’s what Friends are For: How Kraft Can Neutralize a Crusading Food Blogger

Gene Grabowski

Food blogger Vani Hari has Kraft Macaroni & Cheese in her sights.
Earlier this month, she delivered a 270,000-signature petition to Kraft’s corporate headquarters asking the global food company to remove the dyes yellow 5 and yellow 6 from its marquee children’s food brand. While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed the dyes safe, British regulators have found a possible link to ADHD. Ms. Hari (known around the Web as “Food Babe”) sees more than a link – and she is using every digital tool at her disposal to spread the word to concerned parents.
To bring further attention to her crusade, Ms. Hari recently stood outside a Chicago supermarket handing out samples of the U.K. version of Kraft Mac & Cheese, which does not contain the dyes in question. Local media ran with the stunt. Facing a petition, concerned parents, and increasing media attention, Kraft issued a response right out of the crisis playbook.
“You’ve been clear — you love the great taste of your beloved Original Kraft Mac & Cheese just the way it is,” read an open “Letter to Fans” posted on Kraft’s website. “And for those of you looking for Mac & Cheese with natural colors or no colors at all, we’ve got those options too.” Kraft does a terrific job pointing out that it has 14 versions of Mac & Cheese without the dyes. The company also has a solid explanation for why it keeps the yellow dye in certain brands. Finally, it makes clear that consumers have choices which are clearly labeled on each box. After reading the statement, it’s easy to conclude that Kraft is in the right.
But where Kraft’s message provides a template for other companies under similar pressure; the tactics by which it was disseminated leave something to be desired. As of this writing, there is no mention of the statement on any of Kraft’s social media properties. The company’s Facebook page has more than one million likes. Its Twitter feed has more than 48,000 followers. Its YouTube videos have been watched 21 million times. The statement above is smartly crafted to keep the brand’s supporters on board, while ignoring the critics who won’t be swayed no matter what the company says. So why wouldn’t Kraft do all it can to ensure that the message reaches those it is intended for?
Building legions of friends, followers, and subscribers is about more than showing off brand strength; it is about amassing a community of supporters that can come to the company’s aid and protect its reputation when they are needed most. Under a high-profile attack, the multitudes of Kraft supporters in the social media space are essentially on the bench. If Kraft gets them into the game, Ms. Hari may find that her 270,000 signatures don’t look anywhere near as impressive as they once did.
Gene Grabowski is an Executive Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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