LettuceInfo.org: A comprehensive, strategic and credible campaign in response to recent E. coli outbreaks.
Farmers Communication Exchange is currently the public relations agency of record for the California Leafy Greens Marketing Agreement (LGMA) and Marilyn Freeman has been providing the organization with strategic issues and crisis management services since the LGMA was created in 2007. Initially, there was a need to raise awareness and understanding of this unique food safety program. Today, the LGMA is well known throughout the produce industry and the organization is a leader in food safety.
The work has been both rewarding and challenging. Communications and outreach efforts require a great deal of strategic messaging that goes well beyond the traditional commodity board public relations and food communications.
Recently, a series of E. coli outbreaks linked to romaine lettuce have presented numerous issues for the LGMA. Although industry has been responsive in taking measures to strengthen food safety requirements, it is still not known exactly how romaine has come to be the source of outbreaks and what specifically could be done to prevent future outbreaks. In the meantime, consumer and trade confidence in romaine has been eroded.
Farmers Communication Exchange worked with leafy greens industry leaders, LGMA staff and other LGMA vendors to develop a targeted communications campaign. The campaign objectives are twofold: 1.) establish the LGMA as a source of credible information for the public during an active outbreak and 2.) educate those who regularly communicate with consumers about their food about efforts in place throughout the California leafy greens industry to prevent outbreaks.
The result is a new website and corresponding social media channels launched in October 2020.
LettuceInfo.org includes simple, compelling information on leafy greens safety and nutrition. Although messaging is consumer-facing, the target audience of the campaign is registered dietitians, bloggers, influencers and media. In our experience, registered dietitians, in particular, are very interested in food safety and, specifically, about produce safety. These professionals work to encourage people to eat more produce for better health. This can obviously be challenging when consumers are afraid to eat certain produce items. And so, this registered dietitian audience actively seeks accurate, credible information on the topic of food safety.
Many registered dietitians are influencers who communicate regularly with consumers or who oversee consumer education activities for retail grocery stores and restaurants. They can be extremely credible spokespeople to talk with consumers about the safety of their food. By informing this target audience, the LGMA will create a team of champions who can speak to the nutritional benefits of leafy greens and to share information meant to ease consumer fears.
To lend credibility to the project, Farmers Communication Exchange engaged a team of registered dietitians, farmers and communicators to serve as an advisory panel for this new website. The panel assisted greatly in developing the tone and content of the website and campaign messaging and each agreed to write a guest blog for the new site.
In addition to serving as an everyday source of information about lettuce safety and nutrition, LettuceInfo.org also serves to update registered dietitians and other target audiences with important news should an outbreak involving leafy greens arise. This information is delivered via social media and email alerts that are part of the outreach effort.
Farmers Communication Exchange developed all content for the website which includes information about the LGMA food safety program and a series of short videos to tell this story along with facts about nutrition and the growing/harvesting of the leafy greens items under the LGMA. Our team worked closely with two LGMA vendors to develop the website. MJR Creative Group was the website developer on this project. Importantly, Webolutions, a firm specializing in digital media was brought in to ensure the site was built so that information on lettuce safety can be easily found during online search — an important asset with respect to crisis communications.
Farmers Communication Exchange manages all social media posting and promotion for this new website and distributes the newsletter and safety alerts.
The immediate focus of the social media outreach is to build an audience of registered dietitians. Ultimately, this effort provides the LGMA with a direct line of contact with these important influencers. A modest promotion budget was allocated to build the audience. Our firm has been able to build this audience significantly in the past 12 weeks since the launch of the campaign.
Future plans are to create additional content; continue efforts to grow the audience of registered dietitians and influencers; and to update audiences in the event of a future foodborne illness outbreak involving leafy greens.