Avian-flu scare will have negative effect on poultry biz

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Despite industry rhetoric that consumers won't panic about contracting bird flu, the majority of Advertising Age readers polled expect the poultry business to take a hit on sales and demand, especially as marketers, media and politicians anticipate worst-case scenarios.

"As the problem spreads and awareness grows, consumers will become skeptical and react by reducing consumption," said Susie Wolf, president of Wolfpack Communications, Overland Park, Kan. "Food retailers, restaurant chains and others will be smart to have PR plans in the can, ready to go. Do you create more of a scare by talking about it? You have to be prepared because there is going to be enough of a concern that you have to be ready to address it. That's just human nature."

Some observers believe the problem is already out of the industry's control and other factors could exacerbate the situation. "The panic has already begun," wrote Matt Monkiewicz, director-marketing for Kayem Foods, Chelsea, Mass. "Bush, in his speech last week, is preparing for a possible pandemic, with no mention that poultry is safe to eat. Where is the public education that is going to help the industry in what could be a dramatic blow if the demand decline is even half of what's been experienced elsewhere around the world? The high energy costs that are already taxing food-manufacturer margins coupled with a shrink in demand would certainly be problematic, if not disastrous."

One respondent argued that a flu scare could bring far bigger consequences than just commercial ones. "What a stupid question," said Ken McClelland, from Merritt Island, Fla., and a boiler operator for NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Fla."How about could it bring about social disorder? Could a pandemic leave the U.S.A. exposed to invasion by countries who actually prepared?"

What you say: 81% of AdAge.com voters said that the avian-flu scare will disrupt the marketing of poultry products. The rest of the respondents, 19%, don’t believe sales and demand for poultry products will take a hit from the headlines.

Next week’s question is "Will consumers be willing to pay for on-demand content that also contains commercials?" To submit your answer log on to AdAge.com, QwikFIND aao29v

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