Chipotle Called Out Over Misstep In Non-GMO Announcement


In the last week of April, Chipotle Mexican Grill, with more than 1,800 locations, announced their ingredient lists will no longer contain Genetically Modified Ingredients (GMO). Note, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Since 2011, the restaurant chain has emphasized their “Food With Integrity campaigns and began identifying which foods contained GMOs in 2013.

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

Chipotle continues to cater to a select idealism of healthy food and has increasingly worked to set themselves and their food apart through a sizeable marketing budget. Spokespeople for the chain of restaurants continue to highlight the need for healthier food options, choosing to ignore their own menu boasting meals with an average calorie count over 1,000 – several closing in on 2,000 calories. When approached about that contradiction, Chipotle says it’s the consumers responsibility to reduce portion sizes. Yet it seems here, Chipotle has taken it upon themselves to make the decision about the availability of GMO ingredients.

I’m not against someone who chooses to eat organic or naturally produced foods, though I will not support these niche markets with my food dollars because I trust the scientifically proven safety of GMO foods. My issue is with the lack of integrity in marketing used by Chipotle, their misrepresentation and attacks on modern farming practices, and use of fear to portray other food options as inferior and unethical.

This Food With Integrity campaign has stirred up its share of debate and emotion over the years, which includes frustrations among the agriculture community which supplies Chipotle its own food products. In a separate blog entry, I have summarized Chipotle’s marketing campaign moves over the years with links to previous posts where I went into greater detail on the campaigns. Click here to read more.

Most major news and media outlets have taken notice of Chipotle’s announcement to serve only non-GMO ingredients – a few big exceptions include feed for animals which produce the meat found in Chipotle stores and soft drinks containing HFCS. Much of this news has not been positive for the restaurant chain, whose stock prices has steady fallen throughout April due to weaker than expected growth in recent quarters, partly due to their self-induced pork shortage and weaker sales growth in stores.

There are still many, many more stories along the same lines of those listed above, a list likely to grow over the next few weeks. It is encouraging to seem many notable news outlets reporting on the event and calling Chipotle out for the misstep and contradictory nature of their marketing campaign, especially considering a menu that is no more healthy from a nutrition standpoint than most every other fast food restaurant.

Remember to visit the recap of Chipotle’s marketing campaigns and moves to serve Food With Integrity.

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11 Comments

  1. Ryan,

    Thank you for posting this article and summarizing how others are beginning to catch on to Chipotle’s unethical marketing. For what seems like quite a long time, Chipotle has been bashing modern farming and slapping the hand that feeds them.

    I first caught on to Chipotle’s advertisements in Sept. 2013 when my PR & Agriculture class began discussing the negative PR Chipotle was bringing to the industry and how to combat these false statements. At this time Chipotle had just released the Scarecrow video advertisement and were in the process of launching the new app and game. Ever since I watched that video and saw how inaccurately it described the agriculture industry as a whole I have followed the company and their marketing tactics.

    As a PR & Advertising student I find it troubling that a company’s marketing department would put so much effort and funds into slapping the hand of the very industry that brings their product to the table. An industry that is safe and efficient. In my opinion Chipotle has employed the ethical principle of “The End as Justification of Means” (Johannesen, Valde and Whedbee, 2008). Meaning, Chipotle believed that by using ethically questionable marketing techniques it would drive sales by making consumers feel safe to eat their product and scared to eat another company’s product (another company that may not seem as transparent about where their food comes from). Fortunately it seems that their marketing techniques have caught up with them and sales are actually not soaring!

    Johannesen, Richard L., Kathleen S. Valde, and Karen E. Whedbee. Ethics in Human Communication. 6th ed. Long Grove, IL: Waveband Press, Inc., 2008. Print.

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