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A meaty controversy: The people of Alberta v Earls

by | May 6, 2016 | Public Relations, Social Media

On April 28, Earls Restaurant Ltd. announced it would no longer source from Canadian farms any of the two million pounds of beef it sells every year, after its demand for Certified Humane produce could no longer be met by Alberta ranchers.

Certified Humane standards demand beef be raised without antibiotics, steroids, or added hormones, and slaughtered according to the specifications of an animal welfare expert.

Instead, the chain announced it would buy exclusively from a supplier in Kansas…in the U.S.A. (and Alberta collectively gasped).

The issue, said Earls, was not that Alberta does not produce ethically raised beef, but that it simply does not produce enough of it; according to Earls spokesperson Cate Simpson, it was purely a matter of volume.

But that explanation did little to quell the rising anger among Albertans, as they took to Twitter ━ that great social steam valve ━ en masse to berate the Vancouver-based chain.

This last one did however garner some Earls-positive counter-tweets (and even more that made sure to point out Ms. Forsyth’s “there” vs. “their” error).

Indeed, for all the negative tweets aimed at Earls and its decision, there were also those supporting the restaurant chain ━ something the mainstream media, with its focus on the backlash, failed to point out.

And this one just made fun of the boycott itself:

Nevertheless, Earls inevitably bowed to the backlash. On May 4, it distributed a press release titled “Alberta; Earls is listening”, that included an apology from President Mo Jessa calling the move away from Canadian beef “a mistake”.

The about-face might not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the recent Heinz/French’s affair.

Read: How one Facebook post could make French’s ketchup more popular than Heinz

When Heinz announced facility closures in Canada, French’s saw an opportunity and seized it. The company better known for its mustard moved into a Heinz-abandoned plant in Ontario, and began production using only Canadian-grown tomatoes. In the space of three months, French’s was earning more online news ketchup mentions than Heinz, something unthinkable before that Facebook post.

Perhaps Earls feared a fate similar to that of Heinz in Ontario. But instead of waiting, it decided to listen to its customers and work to reverse the damage ━ not unlike Maker’s Mark did in 2013.

Read: How the PR and marketing team from Maker’s Mark Distillery put the brakes on watering down their bourbon whiskey

Luckily for Earls, this whole debacle might have some unintended benefits.

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has urged a national roundtable to “move quickly” on a certification process similar to Certified Humane. These types of standards might be easier than previously thought too, as this Twitter conversation points out that an alternative to in-feed antibiotics exists…and it’s Canadian made to boot!


Canadian company Avivagen Inc. has developed a natural alternative to antibiotics, designed to maintain the efficiency of current farming methods while ensuring human health is not compromised.

Watch: Replacing antibiotics in farm animals

If Notley’s urge is heard, if antibiotics can be replaced. And if the Canadian and global cattle industry can grow stronger as a result, one day we might look back on Earls’ “gaffe” as the catalyst to it all.

Who knows…maybe that’s what they’ve had in mind the whole time. We call that the PR long game.

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Marcus Kaulback
Marcus is a content creator and marketer with a focus on branding and communications.

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