Cotton Incorporated has a long and successful track record promoting cotton and cotton-rich fiber apparel and home furnishings to consumers. At this year’s Southern Cotton Ginners Association Annual Meeting, James Pruden, Cotton Incorporated’s director of public relations, shared the research and promotion program’s most recent plans to redirect and expand efforts to promote whole cottonseed to dairy and beef cattle producers and cottonseed oil to the food industry.
The cooking oil market is replete with competition from oils such as canola, palm, corn and others. “We’ll be using a public relations strategy to rebuild and reintroduce cottonseed oil to specific food markets, illustrating how cottonseed oil can benefit key categories within the food industry,” explains Pruden. “In development are a series of marketing materials directed toward three target areas: the potato chipping industry, food processors, and the fast food and casual dining industries.”
Moving forward, the cottonseed research and cottonseed marketing budgets will be separated. A generous marketing budget will be allocated on a 60/40 ratio between cottonseed and cottonseed oil marketing, now handled by the Consumer Marketing Division. “Cottonseed and cottonseed oil research will remain under the purview of Tom Wedegaertner, director, Cottonseed Research, Agricultural and Environmental Research Division,” adds Pruden. “We are already on track with our efforts and those funds.”
For many years, both cottonseed marketing and research have been shouldered by Wedegaertner, who also handled some state support program responsibilities. “This strategic shift will allow Tom to do what he does best — research — while our marketing people will focus on what they do best,” says Pruden. “While the lion’s share of the budget will be directed toward marketing, advertising and public relations, some funds will also be used for trade shows, website development and materials.”
The advertising campaign will tout the many benefits of cottonseed oil from its high smoke point of 420 degrees to its neutral flavor, long shelf life, and proven ability to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol. “In any business, price, performance, and supply are three big criteria,” says Pruden. “Business owners want products that will work, are competitively priced, and readily available.”
Pruden believes this will be a benefit not only for brands and retailers who use cotton and are placing increased emphasis on sustainability, but for cottonseed crushers who benefit from the improved quality and value added to oil and meal.
Public perception and opportunities
With the increased proliferation of social media, and oft unfounded information related to cottonseed and cottonseed oil, mitigating negative comments through an educational public relations campaign grounded in facts verified through science will soon be initiated by Cotton Incorporated. “Any time a cotton-related product is thrust into a bad light that can negatively influence the public perception of our industry, we have to stand up for ourselves and capitalize on it by turning those negatives into opportunities,” adds Pruden.
Such was the case in 2016 when a very popular, and mostly western U.S.-based hamburger chain, In-N-Out Burger, was ranked as having the second-best french fries in the country based on a survey conducted by well-followed food and drink website The Daily Meal. Later that same year, new management at In-N-Out fell victim to The Food Babe, a self-proclaimed health and fitness advocate.
She blogged some very disparaging comments about cottonseed and cottonseed oil. “She definitely said some unkind and untrue things about cottonseed and cottonseed oil, so we politely responded to correct the error in her assumptions,” says Pruden. “Neither the letter we sent to In-N-Out nor the article in Forbes, penned by contributing writer Kavin Senapathy, swayed the decision of In-N-Out Burger’s new management to stop using cottonseed oil to prepare their high-ranked french fries.”
Recently, the Los Angeles Times food critic conducted his own survey of which french fries across the country were best, and why. As fate would have it, In-N-Out Burger was ranked as having the worst taste and worst texture of all fries surveyed. “This is a prime example of how fickle public perception can be, but also how it creates opportunities, like the opportunity we can take advantage of now by going back to In-N-Out Burger and asking them if they’d like to rethink their decision,” concludes Pruden.