In 2010, Hormel Foods opened Progressive Processing, a new manufacturing facility in Dubuque, Iowa, and the first plant the company had built from ground up in more than 25 years. Progressive Processing was also a milestone for the company – and the food manufacturing industry at large – because it was built according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council for environmentally sustainable construction.
Thus, the communications team at Hormel Foods and their agency partners at Burson-Marsteller recognized Progressive Processing as an opportunity to showcase the company’s commitment to corporate responsibility, innovation, and growth, and began working on an integrated media campaign to deliver that message to the various audiences affected by – and interested in – this exciting project.

The campaign objective was to leverage the news about Progressive Processing to strengthen the reputation of Hormel Foods as a responsible corporate citizen, an industry-leading innovator, and a sound investment.
Specific campaign objectives included:
• Highlight the company’s commitment to the local Dubuque community and its role as a “progressive” local employer;
• Leverage Progressive Processing to differentiate Hormel Foods within the food industry and support the company’s reputation as an innovative industry leader;
• Engage elected officials and other key influencers to generate support of the new facility; and
• Promote the company’s plans for continued growth and sustainability.

Target Audiences
This campaign targeted varied, but equally important, audiences, including elected officials, analysts/investors, employees and citizens of communities where Hormel Foods operates, and peer companies/competitors/food industry at large. Media was a key conduit.

Since summer 2008 when Hormel Foods broke ground on the new plant, the communications team held regular meetings with the executives from across the company to learn about the status of the facility and discuss communications around the grand opening, including planning a grand opening event for Progressive Processing employees, Hormel Foods executives, elected state officials, and those who contributed to the construction of the facility. In conjunction with the grand opening, Hormel Foods executives wanted to make a significant product donation to a local food bank, so the team researched options for the donation and helped coordinate logistics.

In addition, the team spent significant time researching answers to specific questions before preparing messaging for this announcement. For example, the team researched existing LEED-certified manufacturing facilities and found that Progressive Processing would be the first refrigerated food processing facility to earn LEED certification, which was an important “first” fact they could leverage in their outreach.

The team also researched industry award opportunities that, if Hormel Foods won, would further extend the visibility of the sustainability and manufacturing innovation achievements at Progressive Processing by validating those achievements and resulting in additional media coverage.

The team’s strategy was to leverage Progressive Processing as a catalyst for discussions with key audiences and conduits regarding the commitment at Hormel Foods to corporate responsibility, innovation, and growth. In doing so, the team would achieve its objective of positioning Hormel Foods as a responsible corporate citizen, an industry-leading innovator, and a sound investment.

To demonstrate Hormel Foods’ commitment to sustainability, the team would promote the plant’s LEED features and the company’s justification for investing in a LEED-certified facility. To position Hormel Foods as an innovator, the team would focus on the “firsts” achieved with this facility and unique ideas that brought this plant to life. Finally, to position Hormel Foods as a sound investment, the team would use the company’s newest plant to demonstrate its business growth and sound financial position despite the economic recession.

Select trade and local Minn. and Iowa-based media were invited to attend the grand opening celebration on March 30, 2010; they were encouraged to speak with Hormel Foods executives (CEO Jeff Ettinger among others), elected officials (including Iowa Gov. Chet Culver and Sen. Chuck Grassley), and tour the facility – a rare invitation from any food manufacturer. Reporters and editors from more than 20 media outlets attended, including all local television stations.

Following the grand opening event, the Hormel Foods/Burson-Marsteller team stayed in regular contact with media who attended the event, as well as others who were unable but expressed interest in attending. The team shared updates about developments at the plant, including when a new production line was added a few months later and when the plant officially achieved LEED Gold certification on July 27, 2010.

To compliment traditional media outreach and statements to the press, tweets about milestones at Progressive Processing linking to stories and collateral were shared with @HormelFoods followers, which includes trade and local media, consumers, employees, bloggers and more.

The team also pursued relevant industry award opportunities they uncovered in their research, including Packaging Machinery Technology (PMT) magazine’s Packaging Line of the Year Award and the Strategic Manufacturing Awards.

Evaluation of Success/Measurement
Since March, news about Progressive Processing has garnered more than 40 million media impressions – reaching all targeted external audiences – and has been the cover story for six influential trade publications.

Nearly all coverage related to Progressive Processing has included the three key messages integral to achieving the team’s objective. It has:
• Showcased the plant’s sustainable features, demonstrating the company’s commitment to corporate responsibility;
• Reinforced the reputation of Hormel Foods as an innovator with repeated mentions of the many “firsts” achieved; and
• Positioned Hormel Foods as a sound investment by discussing Progressive Processing in the context of the company’s strategy for business growth.

Further, Progressive Processing won the Packaging Line of the Year award from PMT magazine and was a finalist in two categories at the Strategic Manufacturing Awards. In accordance with its recognition as Packaging Line of the Year, the plant was profiled in the September/October and November/December issues of PMT magazine, and executives were invited to present at PACK EXPO International at McCormick Place in Chicago during November.

Most importantly, in a time when many companies were facing criticism for layoffs and negative earnings, in 2010 Hormel Foods was widely recognized by media as an industry pioneer and for setting a new standard of excellence, particularly around innovation and sustainability.