CHICKENING OUT?

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Sometimes, CMOs might believe they are better off keeping quiet about an issue that looms over their industry. That may be why the U.S. poultry-processing and retailing businesses still aren't saying much about avian flu.

The deadly virus has begun killing children in Turkey and is only now spreading into Eastern Europe. Proper handling and cooking of poultry should prevent its spread here, U.S. health officials say. And in January, the National Chicken Council said that its members now intend to test every chicken flock in America for bird flu before slaughter.

Still, Kentucky Fried Chicken executives told securities analysts last fall that the fast-food chain faces a potential 10% to 20% decline in U.S. and European sales because of consumers' avian-flu concerns. So the Yum Brands unit has prepared ads and other marketing materials that could reassure the public.

"We hope to never have to use these ads and they will sit on a shelf and collect a lot of dust," says Jonathan Blum, Yum's senior VP-public relations. Similarly, Tyson Foods, America's largest chicken processor, currently has no plans for a consumer-marketing plan to address avian influenza, a spokesman says. Executives of Wendy's, Perdue Farms and some other chicken processors and retailers decline to comment on the issue at this point, but Perdue and Tyson prepared press releases offering information on avian flu, trying to lessen consumer concerns, Advertising Age reported last November.

Ya Ya's, a Midwestern quick-serve chicken chain, sees "no need to overreact," says John Chinonis, CEO of the Flint, Mich.-based company. "If the time comes that the public starts reacting to it, and we realize it might cause a problem in our business, then we'll definitely address the issue and let the public know why our product isn't in danger from the bird flu."

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