My Chat with Chipotle on Food With Integrity | Part 1


...but probably not marketing with integrity.
…but probably not marketing with integrity.

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) is a food company who takes issue with, as they view it, the systemic problems in modern agriculture. They’re not in it to berate the farmer or rancher, but rather to call attention to the national groups, organizations, and corporations who they believe control modern food production and do not represent the best interests of the modern farmer or rancher. The company wants to provide fresh, wholesome, healthy, and delicious food for its customers while returning a greater percentage of the food dollar back to the farmers and ranchers.

In and of itself, a noble cause on most any day, except that their chosen route to this plan is founded on a campaign utilizing fear-based marketing that perpetuates misinformation and berates the work of most farmers and ranchers in this country. And for the life of their marketing teams, they cannot admit to understanding why this has angered, frustrated, and antagonized so many farmers and ranchers. To state it briefly, Chipotle Mexican Grill is taking advantage of current food trends and buzzwords to build a campaign that fills their pocketbooks.

(This is part of a series. Be sure to read Part 2)

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to spend a few hours on the phone, along with several emails, with one of their marketing managers from the Food With Integrity campaign. This manager, whose name will not be included, but we’ll call him Chip for ease of conversation, is a millennial male living in New York City, who commutes to his office daily, and returns home to live another busy day in the life of an urban dweller. Yet, we’ve had some very insightful conversations, and I will commend him on being able to stick to his message and include as many buzzwords as possible into our conversations. After so many mentions of words describing Chipotle’s mission for fresh, wholesome food, and their view of the systemic problems of industrial agriculture, I simply got tired of counting. I’m sharing this story now because I get the message that Chip is clearly done with our phone conversations and would rather pass me on to the next customer service representative. I have no reason to believe he wants to continue conversations with someone who actually works with ranchers on a daily basis.

Chip works on the marketing team for Chipotle in NYC. He works with purchasing and their vision for food on the Food With Integrity (FWI) team. Chip says he has a large role in deciding how the company will talk about food ingredients and helped to pick out the issues that would be discussed in their latest campaign in FWI, Farmed and Dangerous (F&D) – a series of four 30-minute shows released on Hulu earlier this year. Chip says that the goal of FWI campaigns is to draw attention to the big issues in food production and identify the large room for improvement we have today.

I will agree with Chip on this point, that most people being critical and complaining about F&D hadn’t even seen the series, only watching the trailer previews, which he admits were rather sensational. According to Chip, most of the critical comments they’ve received on the series were from folks directed to comment by larger groups, without watching the shows.

Chip stands by the message that FWI campaigns are not directed at the farmers, but rather the broader context they’re operating in, taking issue with the systemic issues and corporate dominance of modern agriculture.

During this time, I’ve also had a few brief twitter conversations with CMG’s Communications Director & Official Spokesman, Chris Arnold, @ChipotleMedia. His statements reflect the same sentiments as Chip’s in that FWI campaigns are about sparking a conversation about our food supply and drawing attention to what they view as systemic problems in agriculture. And when it comes to questions about the use of fear-based marketing tactics, both individuals use the approach of “deny! deny! deny!” and I am kinda sick of that.

I’ll agree with them on the fact that there are definitely things that can be improved, and as I stated in my first write-up on F&D, there are times where the national entities who are supposed to represent the interests of farmers and ranchers have done a poor job of representation and amplifying farmers’ perspectives. I commend CMG for drawing attention to the subject matter, but if you want to have a conversation about these topics, you have to include and be open to the perspectives of opposing sides, which they have done a poor job of including, especially when it comes to responses and comment moderation on social media.

There’s much more to the conversation that will be shared in the coming days. Sharing my perspectives won’t do much to gain the confidence or trust of CMG, or help my chances for future conversations, but 1) I feel at the point where Chip would rather pass me off to the next marketing personnel, 2) I think it’s important that farmers and ranchers hear my observations in hopes that we can ease up on some of the anger directed at Chipotle, 3) that CMG knows I’m serious about my intention to be a part of the conversation they have started, and 4) I want farmers and ranchers to know what Chipotle wants to see from food producers, so that we can show CMG that we’re already doing many of these things they’re describing.

Have you watched any of Chipotle’s Food With Integrity campaigns? What are your thoughts on their marketing tactics? Do the images they project portray farmers and ranchers you know? What questions do you have for Chipotle’s Marketing teams?

 

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17 Comments

  1. I agree with much that you said, while they may not be aiming to insult the farmer, when they insult the ag industry, they insult the farmer. My questions for Chipotle are: (1) What is the end-goal of the the Food With Integrity campaign? and (2) What are they doing to make positive and lasting changes in the agriculture industry? (3) Did Chipotles’ opinions about the food industry come from within or are there outside groups influencing their thoughts and opinions?

    Great column – I’m anxious to read more.

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  2. I think Chipotle is just using this campaign to keep in the public eye. They know the ranchers/farmers will make a big issue out of what they are saying and hence will keep getting free publicity. The Americans will know the name Chipotle but will not remember Joe Public Rancher or what he has to say. Just a thought.

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  3. I urge you to look into the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and its efforts to raise the farmer and rancher voice in today’s discussions about food and farming. next month, USFRA is hosting a dialogue on integrity in food marketing, and I’m sure they’d love to hear from Chipotle!

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    1. Thanks Ken! It would be great if Chipotle would engage in conversations with groups like USFRA, but they probably only see them for the agribusinesses that support the group. And that will probably keep them from it.

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  4. I also take issue with Chipotle’s jumping on the “anti-GMO” bandwagon. They’re just doing it for the money, clearly, but they don’t understand the anti-science message they’re sending when they reject GMOs just because the organic industry does…

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  5. I have to confess to not following this issue as much as others, but it would seem if Chipotle is truly committed to improving agriculture they would be donating a portion of their profits to organizations that seek to do just that. I’m not sure who that would be, or if they’re already doing that, but if they want to be seen as doing anything other than profiting off trends and buzzwords, they’ll have to take that step.

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  6. This is great. You know I’m a huge supporter of being open-minded to both sides of the story — if we want Chipotle to have an open mind to agriculture, we need to buffer the anger with which we approach them and come to the conversation with productive, constructive goals.

    I’m so proud of you and your ability to have level-headed conversations like this, even with folks that aren’t so receptive to your experiences. Thanks for doing what you do, Ryan!

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  7. Chipotle also knows that only 2% of the populations is farmers – so as long as they can fool the other 98% – who cares about the 2% – right?
    Real integrity here!!

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