"For a subject worked and reworked so often in novels, motion pictures, and television, American Indians remain probably the least understood and most misunderstood Americans of us all."

-John F. Kennedy in
the introduction to The American Heritage Book of Indians

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Tale of Pemmican, an Indian, and the World Cup

This tale begins as I was innocently watching a 2010 World Cup soccer match a few weeks back.  Just as teams and players from across the globe come together to play in this truly international event, so do the corporate sponsors represent our diverse global economy.

There are the U.S. stalwarts Coca-Cola, Visa, and McDonalds alongside Emirates, Adidas, Sony, Castrol, Kia Motors,  Mahindra Satyam, Yingli Solar, and lastly Seara.  This final company caught my eye during the game because of a unique advertisement.

During a match, the electronic billboards that surround the playing field flash through advertisements of the official sponsors.  The Seara ad consisted of the Seara corporate logo (above), the word Pemmican in big bold letters, and a stereotypical Indian replete with warbonnet.

During the most-watched sporting event in all of television, I find myself staring at a giant Indian head.  Why on earth is there a giant cartoon Plains Indian with full headdress on the sidelines of the World Cup in South Africa???

Well, I did a little investigating and the answer is an interesting lesson in the power of marketing and 21st century global business.

You see, Seara is actually a subsidiary of the Brazilian Marfrig Group- one of the official corporate sponsors of the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.  Here's a corporate profile:


"Marfrig is one of the largest food companies in the world. With 72,000 employees and 92 plants and commercial offices located in 13 countries, the Marfrig Group’s products are present in more than 100 countries worldwide. The company is known as one of the most diversified food companies in the global market due to its wide product portfolio. Marfrig is also renowned for its responsible, proactive and innovative initiatives on social and environmental fronts."

This still doesn't explain why I am seeing a clearly North American Indian face at the World Cup.

I then stumbled upon this article which finally shed some light on the subject:


Apparently, the Marfrig Group bought the Pemmican Brand for $25 million from one of North America's largest packaged foods companies ConAgra.  Under the deal, Marfrig would produce the beef jerky in Brazil to be sold in North America under the Marfood USA label but internationally under the Seara label.

Ladies and Gentlemen, here is your product:

Finally, I had found the face that had been staring at me through all those World Cup matches.  But the fun does not stop here.

At the Marfood USA website you get this (emphasis added):

"Some may believe a Private Label program is at odds with National Brands. At Marfood USA, nothing could be further from the truth. Our recent purchase of Pemmican Brand is what we are talking about. For our Private Label customers, Pemmican will continue the journey started by Native Americans, and the very reason they created Pemmican. Once again, Pemmican will lead the way. This time, to explore the Meat Snacks category and its consumers to identify trends and opportunities with the greatest potential for the category."

The company even set up a product website:


The marketers behind Pemmican Brand beef jerky clearly have a target demographic in mind- the outdoor enthusiast.  The website features hunting and fishing imagery with the slogan "Pemmican Tradition."  There is even "The Outfit Your Escape" instant win and sweepstakes promotion where you can win camping gear!

While it is true that Pemmican is a real Native food (being made with dried meat, fat, and berries), this mass-produced beef jerky is far from the real thing.  How could a giant multi-national corporation ever claim to be "continuing the journey started by Native Americans?"  Their product is not only nothing like real Pemmican but they are a Brazilian company that only bought the product two years ago!

It's all hype and marketing!  Marfood USA is simply cashing in on one of the classic images of Native America.

As the marketers see it, an Indian makes the perfect mascot for their dried meat product.  Besides the obvious attempt to give an air of authenticity to their jerky by tying it to real Native food, they are moreover trying to tie their product to America's broader love and admiration for the "traditional" Indian.  The outdoor nature imagery of the website and the camping gear prize in "The Outfit Your Escape" sweepstakes fall into this trap of associating the Indian with the Natural and the primitive.  It's almost as if they're still out there riding around on horseback hunting buffalo, ready to create that real Pemmican just for you.  (and if you eat the authentic stuff, you're one step closer to living that idealized primitive life, close to the land!)

If you really want to "continue the journey started by Native Americans" go for the REAL thing and buy a Tanka Bar!

These are produced by Native American Natural Foods LLC, a Native-owned company based on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  This is probably the closest you can get to buying "real" pemmican.

But wait, remember this all started because of an advertisement at a World Cup match.  This means that the marketers at the Marfrig Group and its subsidiary Seara decided to keep the Indian mascot for the international marketing of Pemmican Brand beef jerky.  If we in the United States already have a hard enough time separating real Native people from what we see in the media and on our products, how will the rest of the world cope?

Is the classic image of the Plains Indian with warbonnet so ingrained in world culture that Seara chose to keep the image to effectively advertise their product worldwide?  Does the Indian image really resonate that much with a world audience?

This is particularly interesting considering the cosmopolitan Marfrig Group is a company supposedly "renowned for its responsible, proactive and innovative initiatives on social and environmental fronts."  Just goes to show that even foreign corporations are not immune to drawing on Indians.

(Note: If anyone finds a photo containing the Seara Pemmican World Cup billboard, please let me know.  I scoured the internet and could not find one anywhere!)

Apparently, this isn't the only "Indian" appearance at the World Cup:
Indian Headdresses at the World Cup

And for more on Indians in advertising check out my previous post:
Electronic Handheld Island Indians


  1. The Dudesons controversy suggests that the American Indian is the worldwide symbol for primitive or savage people.

  2. Stephen,

    First, thank you for noticing Pemmican at the World Cup. Indeed, it would have been a surprise to most. As you noted, Pemmican is owned by Marfrig Group Brazil, as are the Seara and Moy Park Brands which could also be seen in World Cup matches.

    As a part of the FIFA World Cup sponsorship, the Marfood USA division of Marfrig Group was given the opportunity to include the Pemmican Brand logo in the three United States matches. The intent was not to make Pemmican an international brand or market Beef Jerky globally under Seara. It was an opportunity created by our Corporate World Cup sponsorship.

    Marfood USA is an American company located just outside Detroit Michigan. To have Pemmican, our only brand in the US, on the world stage alongside much larger brands inside our company - and even larger ones outside, was important to everyone here at Marfood USA. We are a newly established company striving to play a more important role within Marfrig Group and the Beef Jerky category in the US.

    The Native American association with Pemmican is an area we approach with careful thought and respect. If perceived as “drawing on Indians,” then we have failed.

    The Pemmican Brand is over 40 years old and has strong meaning among core beef jerky users. It also happens to be the name of the Native American food source made popular by the Métis which eventually inspired the product we know today as Beef Jerky.

    The Native American on the packaging is, and always has been, an important part of the brand. More importantly, it’s an important part of what the brand stands for. Pemmican Beef Jerky users are outdoorsmen. They hunt and fish and camp. They respect the outdoors, the freedom, and the tranquility it brings.

    As you said, today’s beef jerky is different than original pemmican. The Tanka bar is a good product and with dried berries, closer to an original recipe. However, the tradition and continuing “the journey started by Native Americans” reference is not about the food - it’s about the great outdoors. It’s about the serenity of casting from the banks of the Au Sable, the workout of hiking the Cabin Creek Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the family together around a warming campfire under an uncountable number of stars.

    We understand that Beef Jerky is like any other product; it’s produced for an audience and marketed. But we also believe there’s a significant disconnect between how Beef Jerky is marketed today and the heritage of where it all began: as a sustainable food source for those who respect, appreciate and spend time in the great outdoors. We’re simply trying to make our Beef Jerky the best choice for those who still understand that significance.

    Thank you for the time to express our thoughts, and more importantly, thank you for the opportunity.

    Michael G. Farley
    Marfood USA I Marfrig Group

  3. Michael-

    You make some interesting points. In the coming week, I'll post my further thoughts on this issue and hopefully we can continue this dialogue.


  4. "It’s about the serenity of casting from the banks of the Au Sable, the workout of hiking the Cabin Creek Trail through the Blue Ridge Mountains"...alas, neither of these has anything to do with the Great Plains or a Plains Indian chief. Nor do the Métis who made pemmican popular.

    In short, the Pemmican logo is stereotypical. For more on subject, see:


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