Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

Dairy Carrie vs. Panera: Social media misstep or masterpiece?

Charlie Arnot Published on 31 October 2013

“Dear Panera Bread Company, you’ve lost a customer.”

Blogger and southern Wisconsin dairy farmer Carrie Mess – or Dairy Carrie, as she’s known to her online fans – describes herself as honest and frank.



In fact, her blog states that she has “the smallest brain-to-mouth filter known to humankind.” So she didn’t hold back when she stumbled across Panera Bread Company’s EZ Chicken marketing campaign.

EZ Chicken promoted Panera’s antibiotic-free, all-natural chicken in a way that Mess believed used fear to sell sandwiches.

She was particularly outraged by the company’s online campaign that included images of cartoon chickens shaped like capsules that she thought depicted farmers who treat livestock with antibiotics as lazy. The “Sure, I was raised with antibiotics. It’s just … easier” caption was a tough pill for Mess to swallow.

On July 23, Dairy Carrie fired off a heated blog post to the bakery café chain informing them that they’d just lost a customer. Shortly thereafter, she created a #pluckEZChicken Twitter hashtag, requesting that Panera pull the EZ Chicken campaign.

“Let’s cut through the BS here Panera. Your new marketing campaign is a horrible idea,” she wrote. “Biting the hand that very literally feeds you isn’t going to work out well for your company.”


That one passionate blog resulted in 43,000 hits in just two days, an immediate backlash against Panera from the farming community, and ultimately, a call to Dairy Carrie from Panera Chief Marketing Officer Michael Simon, who apologized for offending farmers and shut down the EZ Chicken campaign.

In the end, Dairy Carrie’s online crusade got results – and quickly. Was her approach the right one? Some in agriculture cheered her on, while others cringed at what they considered an abrasive approach.

Are efforts like this good for the farming community? Or do we come off as bullies? What’s the best way to engage for a productive result?

Following some basic guidelines and principles can make your engagement more successful.

It’s always best to start with the end in mind. You want your response to be strategic, not just visceral.

It’s easy to respond when emotions are running high, and you want to capture and communicate your passion, but you want to make sure it is directed toward a strategic end. Simply venting online may not produce the desired result. Just being an “angry online farmer” is not strategic.


Communicating your values and capturing your passion will make your engagement more effective. Part of what made Carrie’s response effective was that it clearly communicated her values and emotional engagement in the issue.

Authentically sharing your values makes your message more compelling and more believable.

Peer-reviewed and published research conducted on behalf of the Center for Food Integrity proves that communicating shared values is three to five times more powerful in building trust than proving your point with science.

In other words, you will be more effective talking about your commitment to do “what’s right” than detailing the principles for judicious antibiotic use.

Keep your messages positive and focus on a solution. Talking about how antibiotics improve the quality of life for people and animals helps re-frame the issue and provides a new point of view for the audience to consider.

Carrie’s personal story came across as authentic, consistent with her values and passionate. That’s compelling communication.

We need more farmers to engage online. Following these six steps can help assure success.

1. First listen and then engage. Always take time to pause and listen to what others are saying before posting on social media. Review conversations that are already occurring.

Form your updates carefully and thoughtfully, and consider who your audience is and how they may react to what you’re saying.

2. Set goals. Think about what you want to accomplish prior to logging onto social media to publish your thoughts for all to see. Retaliation and venting may provide immediate gratification, but it isn’t a viable way to engage meaningfully and build trust.

3. Communicate using shared values. When you feel passionately about an issue, it’s easy to offer all of the reasons why someone is “wrong.”

Even people with seemingly opposite ideas can usually find areas of common ground. Instead of immediately stating your own opinions, or going on the defensive, first try to form connections using shared values, which may help set the stage for a productive conversation.

4. Be respectful, even if others are not returning the favor. Recognize and respect differences, and know how to identify when to agree to disagree. Often, meaningful conversations don’t have “winners” – instead, they offer a venue for different individuals and groups to share and discuss their views.

5. Identify the right time to engage. When an opportunity arises where it makes sense for you to engage, the sooner you can do so and calmly offer reasonable insight, the more likely it is that the conversation will turn into an opportunity for intelligent discussion.

Avoid entering into dialogue where you won’t “move the needle,” or where people have clearly made up their minds.

6. Establish credibility. Let people know where you’re coming from and why, and establish yourself as an expert without being pushy. For instance, start sentences with phrases such as “In my experience …” or “On my family’s farm …” This provides others a glimpse into who you are, gives them reason to trust you and may persuade them to listen. PD


Charlie Arnot
Communications Consultant