Creative Partner for Progressive Brands

China meat scandal hits Starbucks, BK, Papa John’s

The Chinese meat scandal expanded to at least three new, major fast-food brands and one new nation on Tuesday, and more are expected to soon join the embarrassing fray.

Burger King, Starbucks and Papa John’s all said they, too, have stopped using any meat from the suspect supplier. At the same time, the crisis spread to Japan, where McDonald’s confirmed some of its Chicken McNuggets were made with meat from the supplier, Husi Food.

At issue: A warning signal is flashing for the world’s largest fast-food brands in the world’s biggest growth market. Food safety concerns, taken very seriously by Chinese consumers, have now spread to the major American brands that many Chinese consumers presumed were above that. Suddenly, giants such as McDonald’s, Yum Brands and Starbucks have to earn back the trust of consumers in a growth market where they can least afford image damage.
What to do at this critical juncture?

“I think that all companies need to take an active role in regulating their supply chains,” says Steven Addis, CEO of Addis, a brand-consulting firm. “McDonald’s and Yum Brands in China should announce permanent food-safety procedures where all of their ingredients go through quality-control testing to assure the public of safety.”
They stopped short of that action on Tuesday. But in a conference call with analysts, McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson said McDonald’s is taking the allegations very seriously. “If those things are confirmed at a higher level, we will deal with that effectively, swiftly and appropriately,” he said.

Thompson also noted, for the first time, that the supplier in question tried to fool McDonald’s. While the company does audit its suppliers, Thompson said, “We do feel we were a bit deceived relative to one of these plants.” He did not get more specific.

Chinese authorities expanded their investigation of the meat supplier, Shanghai company Husi Food. A day after Husi’s food-processing plant in Shanghai was sealed by the China Food and Drug Administration, the agency said Tuesday that inspectors also will look at its facilities and meat sources in five provinces in central, eastern and southern China.

Full USA Today Story

Puppy goes viral in Bud’s anti-drunk driving ad

This puppy’s got legs.

The dog, “Cooper,” is the star of a new Anheuser-Busch responsible-drinking commercial that’s gone viral with more than 13 million views since being posted less than a week ago.

But “Cooper” isn’t one dog. He’s several, explains Tom Kraus, director, Budweiser. “In order to get our dogs to perform without tiring, we had a backup for the puppy and adult ages to cover for each other. In total, we worked with two 9-week-old puppies, Molly and Maverick; one adolescent 7-month-old, Dozer; and two adult 7-year-old Labs, Smith and Jones. All played their roles extremely well.”

Dogs — perhaps even more than Clydesdales — have become the beer maker’s “gotcha” ad vehicle. It was Budweiser’s soft-hearted puppy in love with a horse that won 2014’s USA TODAY Super Bowl Ad Meter competition.

But this latest puppy’s attachment isn’t to a four-legged critter but to its two-legged, 20-something owner, Luke, who is late getting home from a night out partying. The dog patiently waits — and waits — at the door.

All through the night.

The ad’s message: The owner is responsible. Instead of driving home, he apparently was coaxed by his buddies into sleeping it off. So he arrives home safe the next morning, to his dog’s delight.


Never mind that the viewer is still left wondering, gee, who fed that poor puppy dinner and let it out to pee overnight?

Apparently, all of that’s forgiven in social media. Many of the tweets are from folks who couldn’t keep from tearing up while watching it. “Legit cried during this Budweiser commercial with the dog,” tweeted Hannah Hart.

Zildjian Bartels even posted a photo of herself crying, next to her tweet, “The New Budweiser commercial got me like (crying).”

“So many tears for the new Budweiser commercial,” tweeted Christina@Chomo90, who also posted a tear-soaked photo of herself.

The ad squarely targets the 21- to 27-year-old Millennial whose single mission in life is to share content with friends on social media.

The purpose of the ad: “From the beginning, our aim has always been to tell an emotional story in a disruptive way to remind adults that drunk driving is 100% preventable,” says Kraus.

AB posted the digital-only ad last Friday as part of its “Global Be(er) Responsible” day against drunk driving. The ad is trending under #FriendsAreWaiting.

Then, there’s the dude who plays Cooper’s owner. He’s Nile Sarkisian, a 25-year-old actor and model who lives in Los Angeles. “We picked him not only for his talent, but also his genuine likability — and his fondness of dogs certainly helped,” says Kraus.

During one day of filming, says Kraus, “our actor probably endured more licks than most pet owners do in a lifetime.”

Even hardened brand consultants begrudgingly admit they like it.

Sure, A-B is milking the success of its 2014 Super Bowl spot by using a dog to tug at the heartstrings, says Steven Addis, CEO of the Addis agency in Berkeley, Calif. But A-B takes this “drive responsibly” ad well beyond that. “There’s also an appeal for Millennials, in that the guy could be free enough to stay out all night,” says Addis.

The dog ultimately represents a ‘”starter relationship,” adds Addis, to show that we all want someone to be responsible to.

Even if that someone’s got dog breath.

USA Today Story

Diet Coke Slurpee pulled from stores

Diet Coke Slurpee pulled from stores

It’s not yet summer — barely spring — but the new Diet Coke Slurpee briefly sold at 7-Eleven already has melted down.
Just one month after rolling out the Diet Coke Frost Cherry Slurpee, the frozen concoction has been removed from 7-Eleven stores nationally, Coca-Cola and 7-Eleven confirmed in a joint statement. The problem: It didn’t freeze right.

“A significant number of stores experienced dispensing quality issues involving the product freezing consistency,” the joint statement says. Never mind that last month, Coca-Cola executives boasted about cracking the code after 31 years on how to blend the world’s best-selling diet soft drink into a frozen beverage.
It’s back to the drawing board.

“In keeping with both companies’ quality standards, 7-Eleven has removed the product,” says the statement.

Executives from both companies declined to discuss the snafu any further. No clue if the beverage will ultimately return to 7-Eleven or elsewhere. Coca-Cola had previously announced plans to add other diet flavors to the line later this spring and expand the frozen beverage to other retailers.

John Sicher, editor of Beverage Digest, the specialty trade publication, says the process of freezing diet sodas isn’t simple. “Creating frozen diet carbonated beverages is tricky. The diet sweeteners don’t facilitate viscosity control like sugar or corn sweetener,” he says, in an email.
Executives from Coke and 7-Eleven note there are no health or safety issues with the product.

But one brand guru notes that while the two consumer product giants should certainly have done better product testing, they won’t walk off with too much Slurpee on their collective faces.

“A major trend today is high tolerance for trial and error,” says Steven Addis, CEO of the branding agency Addis. Companies, he says, tend to get more credit for pushing the boundaries. “Consumers are more open to companies trying new things and will give them the benefit of the doubt for attempts at innovation — even if they fail.”

NBC WKYC Affiliate Story

Starbucks’ $450 metal gift cards will go fast

You might call it the Starbucks card for the 1%.

Or this year, perhaps, for the 0.5%.

For the second year in a row, Starbucks is rolling out an ultra-limited edition, $450 metal, gift card for the holidays — pre-loaded with $400. But this year, it’s literally five times more exclusive. Last year, the coffee giant made 5,000. This year, it’s making a mere 1,000.

If you want one, you gotta act fast. Really fast. Not one Starbucks store will sell them. The offer will be available only on the luxury goods website on Friday at noon EST. Last year, the 5,000 designer cards sold out in about six minutes. With just 1,000 offered this year, “Will it be one minute or two?” poses Cliff Burrows, group president of the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

For Starbucks, just about anything goes at holiday time. Consider: 1 in 10 adults last December received a Starbucks gift card of some sort. Starbucks cards are the most “gifted” item in America, says Burrows. That makes the hard-to-get Starbucks Metal Card — even in a tough economy — an apparent must-have for the well-to-do. Some of last year’s cards have been posted on eBay for as much as $1,000.

“If something is hard to get, it takes on irrational value,” says Steven Addis, a brand consultant. “By making it even harder to get, the irrationality goes up.”

At the same time, he notes, Starbucks protects itself from taking heat for its pricey card by also selling so many $5 gift cards. “It’s a fail-safe gift,” he says of conventional Starbucks cards.

Besides the $400 pre-loaded on the designer card, it also has Gold-level status — meaning free refills on iced or brewed coffee or tea, along with other perks.

Each of the cards — which are all hand-made — features an artisan rose metal base with rose-colored coating. Starbucks lettering is laser-etched on the front. Each comes in a blue gift box with a special letter inside that explains the card’s value.

The company made a “deliberate decision” to make even fewer metal cards this year, says Burrows. “It’s now more special,” he says. “We’ve elevated it to a new level.”

For folks who want to keep their designer card pristine — and don’t want it to get scratched from use — well, you can simply load the card onto your mobile device and keep the card, itself, safe, says Burrows.

That might also increase its collectible value.

First, of course, you have to get your hands on one.

“Maybe the most potent of sales tools is scarcity,” says Addis.

Even Burrows, himself, hasn’t been able to get his hands on one yet.

But if he can land one for his wife before Christmas, he says, only half-jokingly, that may help determine if the holidays at the Burrows home “are very good — or very bad.”

Original article on USAToday.

Photo by Starbucks.

The Future Of Salmon Is Farming: Verlasso In The News

It is exciting to see our client Verlasso making some real progress in evolving the thinking and practices for providing sustained sources of healthy and delicious salmon. Below is a recent article on

The Future Of Salmon Is Farming

Once thought of as an environmental disaster, cultivated salmon is becoming a more responsible product.


Article courtesy of

You know farmed salmon has a bad reputation when even the neo-Nazi meth cooks on “Breaking Bad” look down on it. This week the crew looked to inferior fish to solve a product problem: drugs that were literally a pale imitation of the premium blue stuff.
“Hell, we’ll put food coloring in it,” they decide. “Like they do farm-raised salmon. I mean, Jesus, do you ever see how pink they make that crap? … It sure as hell don’t come out the ocean looking like that.”

Eating fish responsibly can be confusing. But as even our friends on “Breaking Bad” seem to know, one of the few ironclad rules has been: avoid farmed salmon. Atlantic salmon is always farmed, and farmed fishing is, in the words of Food and Water Watch, “dirty, unsustainable and inefficient.” So don’t buy Atlantic. You don’t even need a guide to remember that, although Monterey Bay Seafood Watch says:
Most salmon are farmed in open pens and cages in coastal waters. Waste from these farms is released directly into the ocean. Parasites and diseases from farmed salmon can spread to wild fish swimming near the farms and escaping farmed salmon can harm wild populations. As a result, all salmon farmed in ocean net pens get an “Avoid” ranking.

Farmed populations also pose a human health risk. They’re higher in fat and lower in omega-3′s than wild varieties, and may contain high levels of toxins.
“However,” the guide continues, “some salmon farmers are making changes to improve their practices.” This summer, 15 farmed salmon companies from around the world announced the formation of the Global Salmon Initiative (GSI) to create industry-wide reform. If they succeed, farmed salmon might not only become a good choice — it could be the thing that saves wild fish.

Farmed fish, or aquaculture, is the future of seafood. Very soon, human consumption of farmed fish will surpass that of wild-caught species; as more than one expert I spoke with pointed out, seafood consumption is on the rise, and the human population is still growing. Wild-caught fish won’t be able to feed us all for long.
Aquaculture, as it’s widely practiced, is easy to vilify as one more thing destroying the environment and depleting natural resources. But despite this bad rap, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. The industry’s greatest sin lies in its youth, said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, director of the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch program. “Fisheries have been going on for thousands and thousands of years,” she told me. “Industrial-size aquaculture is just a new industry, and it maybe had some growing pains as it scaled up to meet demand.”

Regulations are only starting to catch up. In 2011, the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) formed and began handing out certifications to sustainable aquaculture operations; salmon will only be the third species eligible for such recognition.
GSI signatories  have committed to making 100 percent of their production ASC-certified by 2020. You may not immediately recognize any of their names, but you’ve probably eaten their product — together, they represent 70 percent of the global farmed salmon industry.

“This is something that probably should have been done 10 years ago,” said Alf-Hedge Aarskog. Aarskog is the CEO of Marine Harvest, one of the largest salmon farming companies and a signatory to the GSI. But it’s only as the industry has expanded through the world, he explained, that its leaders have recognized how they’re all facing the same challenges. “We know that we are all farming fish in the same waters, impacting each other,” he said. The industry, in other words, has become mature enough to see the big picture, and to finally address the problems that have been worrying environmentalists for decades.
Already, a small operation unaffiliated with the GSI became the first to receive Monterey Bay’s yellow light, or “good alternative” rating. Verlasso is a young fishery that got started in 2006. It was founded, director Scott Nichols explained, in direct response to the environmental problems plaguing bigger aquaculture operations. As such, it got a bit of a head start on reaching a higher standard of sustainability.

As the majority of farmed salmon moves toward sustainability, we’ll need to amend the way we think of aquaculture. Jason Clay,  senior vice president of market transformation for WWF-US, said a lot of what we think we know about the salmon industry – such as the idea that farmed salmon require 10 times more feed than their wild brethren – no longer holds true. The current “farmed is bad, wild is good” mind-set may no longer be productive.
Of course, consumers should be aware that aquaculture isn’t yet near where it needs to be. When we spoke about seafood guides, Kerry Coughlin, of the Marine Stewardship Council, reminded me that consumer pressure can push industry toward more sustainable practices.

In one respect, promoting wild-caught salmon lets the industry know that responsibly raised seafood is in demand. The same people who can afford to be picky about not buying clothes produced in sweatshops or produce grown with pesticides may direct their money toward more conscionable fish. But we also need food, period – enough to feed a growing planet. “Two years ago, global aquaculture production surpassed the planet’s beef production,” said Clay.
For now, aquaculture can still feel like a necessary evil. If you have a choice, it’s better to eat wild. But farmed salmon could go from being a problem to being a solution. “We’d like to change people’s perception that aquaculture is bad,” said Kemmerly. “In fact, aquaculture is necessary.”

The original article can be read here.

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