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Hey, Pay Attention to That Extra-Plump Chicken

A "plumped impostor" at the Bay to Breakers race in San Francisco. (Foster Farms)

It must have been a little odd to see an enormous chicken at the finish line of the Bay to Breakers 12K race last week. But if Foster Farms has its way, the "plumped impostors" will soon be everywhere: at the Los Angeles Marathon on Memorial Day, and as stars of a bigger and better Web site and ad campaign in mid-June.

The oversize but adorable chickens intend to send consumers a message: Say no to "plumping," an admittedly made-up term that describes the "all-too real practice of injecting salt water, chicken stock or seaweed extract or some combination thereof into chicken, to increase weight and price, while simultaneously increasing sodium content by up to 700."

Fighting words.

Producers have long injected chickens with saltwater solutions to help make them taste more juicy. And consumer groups have long complained about so-called enhanced chicken. But Foster Farms' "say no to plumping" campaign takes the battle to a new and far more humorous level.

Make no mistake: Foster Farms is not some idyllic family business. Company sales reached almost $2 billion last year, making it the 10th-largest poultry producer in the United States. In addition to its fresh chicken line, Foster Farms also offers pre-marinated, processed products.

With its new campaign, Foster Farms hopes to distinguish itself from rivals Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride and alert consumers to the fine print on chickens labeled all-natural. (Foster Farms is not the only company that sells chicken without saltwater injections, so the campaign could benefit other producers as well.) The USDA permits producers to label enhanced chickens "natural," reasoning that saltwater is a natural product even though it's not naturally found in chicken.

To support its cause, Foster Farms commissioned a a survey released last week that revealed that 63.1 percent of respondents were not aware that some fresh chicken is injected with up to 15 percent saltwater. (Most enhanced birds have far less, but 15 percent is the limit.) More than 84 percent did not know that the weight of the added saltwater could boost the price by as much as $1.50 per package.

It seems obvious that adding saltwater to chicken may make it easier to cook, but none of us needs extra sodium in our diets. And we certainly don't need to pay more for it.

Plus, the ad campaign is a hoot.

What do you think?

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  May 21, 2009; 2:15 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics , Food labeling  | Tags: Jane Black, chicken, food labeling, sodium  
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How do you find out if saltwater is in the chicken?

Posted by: Stormy1 | May 21, 2009 3:33 PM | Report abuse

The best way is to look for a list of ingredients. Chicken without any salt water added won't need them. If there is salt water added, it will be clear from the list.

Posted by: Jane Black | May 21, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

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