ConAgra Forced to Apologize for Processed Food Bait & Switch

Food giant tricked bloggers into taste testing frozen meals.
Not exactly what you picture at a glam underground Manhattan dinner hosted by a celebrity chef, now is it? (Photo: Getty Images).
Sep 7, 2011
Exec. Prod. of Franchises & Series. He previously reported for HuffPost, L.A. Daily Journal, and Biloxi Sun-Herald.

It was all supposed to be a delightfully sneaky publicity stunt: food giant ConAgra hired the PR geniuses at Ketchum to invite a slew of prominent food and mom bloggers to an underground Italian restaurant at a fancy-pants Manhattan brownstone for a "delicious four-course meal."

The lucky bloggers who snagged an invite were led to believe that the meal would be prepared by celebrity chef George Duran, host of TLC's Ultimate Cake-Off, and that industry analyst Phil Lempert would be talking to them about food trends. The guests even talked to Lempert about how depressing it was that so many foods these days were over-processced, chemical-filled sodium bombs. 

It was all set to be a simply marvelous evening of Italian dishes and foodie bonding. 

Until it went horribly wrong.

The assembled diners, it turns out, weren't really feasting on Duran's own take on Italian food.

Rather, they were fed frozen Marie Callender's lasagna and Razzleberry Pie. Marie Calender's, you see, is one of ConAgra's brands.

It appears that some genius over at Ketchum decided that it would be such a super SWEET surprise for all those discerning food bloggers to find out that —hahahahaha!—they had been duped into eating Marie Callender's frozen dreck that they'd all go home and write wonderfully glowing blog posts about the gee-golly-gosh unexpected twist to their evening meal. 

Except they didn't. Here's a sampling from the FoodMayhem blog:

To Mr. George Duran:

On behalf of the the culinary world, we hereby revoke your dodin bouffant; apron; and most of all, your right to call yourself a ‘chef’.  You sir are an embarrassment to those in the culinary industry working hard to maintain and enhance a culture of food as one of the best parts of living.

We discussed with the group the sad state of chemical-filled foods and discussed various chains.  And yet, you still fed me the exact thing I said I did not want to eat.

And this from the ChubbyChineseGirl blog:

I'm NOT their target consumer and they were totally off by thinking I would buy or promote their highly processed frozen foods after tricking me to taste it.

ConAgra ended up issuing a rather lame apology for the whole mess. Per The New York Times:

“It was never our intention to put any bloggers or their guests in an uncomfortable position and for that we are sorry,” she said, adding that the brand subsequently offered to reimburse attendees for such expenses as cab fare and baby-sitting.

Confidential to ConAgra: tricking people into eating over-processed crap? Not a smooth PR move. We're guessing someone's gonna get fired. 

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