It might be hard to see how marketing meat has much to do with religion, but Tyson Foods is betting it can make a buck on a chicken wing and a prayer.
"People are not just buying our products, they're buying us and they're spending more and more time looking on the Internet and elsewhere to find out, 'what does this company stand for,'" said Bob Corscadden, Tyson's Chief Marketing Officer.
Trouble is, what consumers are likely to find when they research Tyson on the Web is a rather tawdry catechism of political manipulation, labor violations and workplace safety problems.
By wrapping itself in a cloak of piety, Tyson is hoping to sell more chicken, beef and pork while diverting attention from pork barrel politics, like the $7 million grant it received earlier this year from the Texas Enterprise Fund in exchange for its promise to hire 1,600 Texans at a new slaughterhouse and meat packing plant in Sherman.
Among Tyson's efforts is the "Giving Thanks at Mealtime" booklet, for those unable to say grace without a script. About 25,000 have been sent out since late August, when the program made its debut. Tyson concedes its urge to help consumers give thanks was based largely on market research that found prayer books were appetizing to its meat-loving customers.
The company would like to get into bed with some faith-based organizations but it doesn't take an expensive pollster to discover that teaming up with one religious group is a good way to alienate rival sects.
Or, as Corscadden put it in an interview with Advertising Age, "It's a sticky wicket."
The company insists it comes by its piety honestly. Chairman-CEO John Tyson is a self-proclaimed born-again Christian and admits to having battled against drug and alcohol addiction.
One of Tyson's guiding lights is Faith Popcorn, a marketing strategist who helped craft the religion-on-the-sleeve "Power by Tyson" campaign. The future success of food companies rests on selling their ideologies as much as their food, Ms. Popcorn believes.
Based in Springdale, Arkansas, Tyson is the world's largest producer -- not to mention slaughterer -- of chicken, pork and beef, with more than 114,000 employees at more than 300 facilities and offices around the world. The company says it has 128 chaplains in those plants.