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It's no yolk – Locally Laid is runner-up in Super Bowl ad contest

The Seahawks and the Broncos may be on pins and needles heading into this Sunday’s Super Bowl, but they have nothing on Jason and Lucie Amundsen.

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The Amundsens, proprietors of the Locally Laid Egg Company of Wrenshall, went right down to the wire in finding out if their ad would be featured as part of Intuit’s Small Business Big Game competition during the Super Bowl. And on Thursday, the word came at last – Locally Laid was selected as the runner up to the big winner, a toy company manufacturing engineering-based blocks for girls.

“We ran a fun campaign and are incredibly proud of the stir you kicked up trying to Hail Mary a chicken into the world’s largest football spectacle," commented Lucie on Facebook Thursday afternoon. "And you did an impressive job. The PR firm working with Intuit says that Locally Laid got media impressions that number in the billions – that’s billions with a B. That’s a whole lot of attention for a retro egg, a pasture-raised bird, and the little company trying to do her right. Plus it was good for Duluth, good for Minnesota and good for farmers raising Real Food everywhere.”

The Amundsons and their wholesale egg business were selected by voters as one of the top four finalists from among 15,000 entries in the contest. And though the final voting closed Dec. 1, the clincher was — the Amundsons couldn't find out if they were the big winner until Jan. 30 in New York City.

The four finalists received an all-expenses-paid trip to New York City for six days, including a stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Midtown. Lucie flew to New York on Wednesday and Jason was slated to arrive Thursday, since he’s been attending the International Poultry Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.

“I haven’t been to New York City for at least 20 years,” said Lucie, “so it will be an incredibly big adventure.”

All four finalist groups gathered at the hotel at that time, where they had dinner together and got to know one another.

“We’ve already been Tweeting each other and keeping in contact via social media,” said Lucie, “so it feels like we already know each other.”

Jason’s brother Brian, who has worked with them for several years, will be minding the farm while they’re away.

The Amundsens have been asked to attend a special “by invitation only” Super Bowl Party at the New York City hotel where they are staying. Some 200 people are expected to attend the event, though the Amundsons don’t know who exactly will be there.

“Jason’s hoping for Chloe Kardashian!” said Lucie with a laugh.

The rest of their time in New York City, the Amundsons plan to simply enjoy the vacation experience and soak in the sights of the Big Apple.

“I plan to take a shameless ‘selfie’ in front of the lions at the library, go to Broadway and eat street food!” said Lucie. “This is definitely a big departure for us.”

And to be certain, the self-proclaimed “wild ride” that the Amundsens have been on over the past several months is something neither of them ever expected to happen.

When they first learned about the Intuit Quick Books competition from an economic development advisor at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the Amundsens decided to take a shot at it, first entering a mandatory photo and write-up of their business. The next phase was to record a brief video on what their small business is all about, and when they were selected among the top 20, things really started to heat up.

The 8,000-some employees of Intuit cast their votes from among the 20 finalists, and one day in early November the Amundsens received a phone call saying a contest “scout” was coming to the farm because Intuit wanted to do a photo shoot of the Top 20. They were told that in addition to the farm, he wanted to see their home office as well.

“All we had was a desk in the living room with a good five-foot radius of paper spill,” confessed Lucie.

She said she instantly went into “Operation-Create-an-Office” mode and turned an underused room in their house into a work space in a number of hours, including throw pillows in the company colors, new towels and soap for the adjacent bathroom, and a file cabinet. Just as she was hanging the final photo on the wall, Jason and the representative from Intuit were walking in the front door.

“Jason was gawking around the new office like a tourist, while I was willing him with my brain to be cool,” said Lucie.

Their visitor gave the office a brief nod of approval and then informed them that a number of folks from Intuit would be flying in the next day to take photos for “marketing purposes.”

The day the group visited the Amundsens’ farm was a cold day in late fall and spitting snow. After waiting out in the field for their visitors for a couple of hours, the Amundsens finally saw what looked like an entourage coming down the dirt road.

“It was a big black Escalade, a Prius, a couple of sedans and…a limo!” related Lucie.

Inside the vehicles was a camera crew of four or five men and women with hefty gear, along with someone yielding an enormous boom mike. Lucie said all were beautifully dressed Californians wearing brand new rain boots and a few with ponchos. Among them was Intuit spokesman Bill Rancic, the winner of the first season of Donald Trump’s hit show “The Apprentice.”

“We’d had lots of precipitation that week,” recalled Lucie, “and our farm had mostly clay soil. It wasn’t the most beautiful day on the farm, but the crew members were tremendous sports about it. They obviously weren’t livestock-handling people, but they were completely game to pick up the hens. At one point, I looked over at Jason and he was showing Bill Rancic how to tell if a hen was going to lay an egg or not. And there was Bill – with his hand up the chicken’s vent!”

Before any of them could really grasp what was going on, the crew unfurled a huge congratulatory banner announcing they had been selected for the Final Four.

“Every camera was trained on us for reaction,” said Lucie. “And we…BLINKED….and then we stared…one more blink. We were stunned and so cold we made terrible television. I mean, we’re US — a small farm in Wrenshall, Minn., struggling just to make it work day to day. How could this be happening?”

Rancic then began interviewing them while the cameras continued rolling.

“Though I can’t really remember anything I said,” admitted Lucie, “I may have confessed to the whole world that I recently signed away my entire retirement fund, and that now every last dime we have is in the farm. I’m pretty sure I talked about sustainable agriculture and why it matters in the county. I may have mentioned that running a small business is so stressful that incorporation paperwork should come with its own ankle flask!"

And, as it turned out, the film crew never did go into the Amundsens’ hastily assembled office.

After the announcement was made that Locally Laid had made it to the Final Four, word spread far and wide and friends, acquaintances and complete strangers began casting votes their way in hopes of making the small local business the top winner of the contest and the Super Bowl ad. The outpouring of support included “Vote LoLa” (short for Locally Laid, of course, and the name of every one of their 3,000 hens), notices on pizza boxes, at checkouts, on store marquees and lawn signs, online and in print ads, at a rally and even on a billboard.

“The community has been amazingly supportive,” said Lucie.

And win or lose, the Amundsens said they have accomplished much of what they set out to do.

“I think the population of our country is more interested in their food than ever before,” reflected Lucie. “This is a tremendous opportunity to bring the food system into the national conversation and possibly make more people aware of certain terms such as ‘pasture raised’ and ‘food miles’ (referring to how far our food has to travel before it gets from the grower to the consumer). We know we aren’t going to change the world overnight, but if we can get people thinking more about where their food comes from, how it was raised, and maybe even join a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) group for the first time, we will be very happy.”