Trusting the Chickens

January 23rd, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »

We should feel for the many companies pushing me-too products. Think laundry detergents and even chicken. To thrive, they have to convince consumers their same-as stuff is different and better somehow. They also have to bribe stores for shelf and counter space. It’s fierce in the grocery.

Today our Boston Globe arrived in a Perdue plastic bag with just such dubious distinctions on it. THE FIRST CHICKEN COMPANY WITH USDA PROCESS VERIFIED PROGRAMS it read in the middle. The print near the bottom was almost as large with their slogan TASTE THE PERDUE­® DIFFERENCE.

perduebragBetween the shouting was a new seal replete with a pretty irrelevant  two ears of corn (makes a little more sense than apple pie). It had check marks beside the U.S.D.A.-related claims of all vegetarian diet, no animal byproducts, raised cage free, and tenderness guaranteed. It also plugged no hormones or steroids added, this with a wee asterisk.

For getting with the U.S.D.A. program, it gets to put the new logo with the slogan on its packages. Particularly for customers concerned about health (and hesitant to pay two, three or more times the cost for claimed organic chicken at the hippy-dippy supermarkets), this is likely a feel-good combo.

Without being too cynical, let’s see what this means. For anyone used to manufacturing lingo, the key is obvious in the name process verified. Yes, boys and girl, men and women, this is just another spin on ISO 9000. Perdue has carefully defined how it buys, raised, murders, cleans out, cuts up, packages and ships its birds. They promise consistency and monitor the whole routine. It’s the same every chicken plucking time.

usdaThere are a couple of other companies who have gone through this trouble already. Sparboe Farms in Michigan and the related Van Essen Farms in Iowa do it. Actually, they seem to exceed Perdue’s standards and procedures. Unlike Perdue, they specify how and when they trim chicken’s beaks, how they test the dead birds that occur in raising, and employee training requirements. They truly are with the program.

Perdue’s lesser version is better than nothing. It’s probably healthier for the chickens and us who eat them and their eggs that they eat grains with no ground up chicken or other animal parts. Most of us probably think that is the norm, but nothing requires it.

The cage-free thing is nebulous, but likewise, kinder to the birds. It pretty much means they are not in tiny cages and can walk a bit and spread their wings while still staying inside. It certainly is not the same as the stereotypical old-style chicken farm where the birds walk about, eating grain and bugs off the barnyard.

The tenderness guarantee is a marketing ploy. If you don’t like a Perdue purchase, you might be able to get the store or company to refund your purchase if you go through the trouble.

bwak

For that asterisk,  it notes that federal regulations require no steroid or hormone added anyway. That should be true for all poultry sold in this country.

For the whole process verification thingummy, the ISO 9000 certification is a good idea at all its levels. All manufacturers, including food processors should define their whole operation, teach their folk how to do things right, and then monitor and measure compliance. Yet, having been involved in implementation at several companies, I snort too.

What ISO 9000 really means at it core is consistency. You can end up doing the same crappy thing over and over, so long as it is what you specify and you make sure it is. GIGO (garbage in/garbage out) as the old computer term puts it.

So we can simultaneously praise and pity Perdue. They sell commodity products and have a lot of competition. They have to try constantly to differentiate themselves and convince people that their chicken is not just the same as another chicken.

To Perdue’s credit, it has bred beasties with lots of breast meat, which Americans prefer. It also got a lot of traction with dad, Frank Perdue, in his ads. He claimed with great sincerity and commercial success that it takes a tough man to make a tender chicken. Therefore, we pay more, believing his and now his son’s company’s birds are better. Plus, he looked a lot like a barnyard fowl himself.

USDA Process Verified…what was it Garfield used to think, “Big fat hairy deal!”

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