Rebuilding trust in all things peanut: advertizing, actions or both?

The National Peanut Board is joining Jif and Peter Pan in attempting to save American newspapers by investing in advertizing to woo back skeptical consumers.

In a press release and full-page letter in USA Today on Wednesday (thanks, Margaret – dp) peanut producer pooh-bahs announced they will set up shop in Vanderbilt Hall in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal March 4 and 5 to meet consumers, answer questions and give away samples of peanuts, peanut butter and other peanut items. The event kicks off the farmers’ efforts nationally to rebuild consumer confidence in products made with the crops they grow.

Roger Neitsch, Texas peanut farmer and chairman of the National Peanut Board — the research and promotion board funded by peanut growers, said,

“No one is more deeply disturbed by the recent salmonella crisis than the thousands of USA peanut farmers and their families. We may be peanut farmers, but we also are fathers, mothers, sons and daughters — and consumers. So we understand and share the concerns being experienced these days by families across America.”

But is recruiting celebrity chefs and athletes, while portraying farmers as producers of all things safe, really enough?

Noted science-and-society type, Dorothy Nelkin, noted in 1995 that, efforts to convince the public about the safety and benefits of new or existing technologies — or in this case the safety of the food supply — rather than enhancing public confidence, may actually amplify anxieties and mistrust by denying the legitimacy of fundamental social concerns. The public expresses a much broader notion of risk, one concerned with, among other characteristics, accountability, economics, values and trust.

As I’ve said before, the best food producers, processors, retailers and restaurants should go above and beyond minimal government and auditor standards and sell food safety solutions directly to the public. The best organizations will use their own people to demand ingredients from the best suppliers; use a mixture of encouragement and enforcement to foster a food safety culture; and use technology to be transparent — whether it’s live webcams in the facility or real-time test results on the website — to help restore the shattered trust with the buying public.

The makers of Jif and Peter Pan have already gone on record saying they will not disclose their own food safety test results.

Nelkin, D. 1995. Forms of intrusion: comparing resistance to information technology and biotechnology in the USA in Resistance to New Technology ed. by M. Bauer. Cambridge University Press, New York. pp. 379-390.