Chipotle Mexican Grill is at it again with its “Food With Integrity” campaigns. This time, they’ve spent $1 million on a four-part series of 30-second videos on Hulu titled “Farmed and Dangerous”. This is a good opportunity the agriculture community needs to take advantage of. Be there to share your experiences and talk about the issues that arise in the video series. Don’t use this opportunity to lash out or be defensive toward others. This was originally published on CNN Eatocracy on February 17, 2014. Click here to see all of my CNN articles.

Chipotle Food With Integrity
…but probably not marketing with integrity.

“No one has ever made himself great by showing how small someone else is.”

Irwin Himmel

Opinion: A farmer’s challenge to Chipotle

Farmers and Ranchers are upset about how a burrito company is portraying their business. If you haven’t seen them already, Chipotle has run a series of ads during the past few years centered around “Food With Integrity” and the idea that we can “Cultivate a Better World” by eating their burritos. These ads depict modern food and livestock production through Chipotle’s marketing eyes and as their spokespeople tell us, the motive is to raise awareness about learning more about where our food comes from. But does Chipotle practice what it preaches?

The Denver-based Chipotle Mexican Grill sets itself apart from most other chain restaurants by serving burritos with a side of buzzwords. Many of their ingredients are labeled natural, organic, and Responsibly Raised(R) meat without antibiotics and Chipotle has even gone as far as labeling ingredients that may contain Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) on their website. However, Chipotle has struggled with sourcing enough ingredients for their over 900 locations to meet those claims leaving customers paying a premium price for standard ingredients.

Chipotle’s Marketing

Chipotle’s marketing campaigns rely on stirring up emotion with imagery that paints a bleak picture of a futuristic food system that is factory-like and systemic problems with nefarious and imagined solutions. Chipotle wants to stand out from other fast-food chains by convincing their customers that eating at Chipotle will help fight the good fight against the bad guys. With everything from Scarecrows to serenades by Willie Nelson, Chipotle captures the attention, and emotions, of their audiences with plenty of fear and misinformation.

For a company with gross sales over $3.2 billion last year, Chipotle touts themselves as champions for the little guy in the food supply. Maybe that is what is ironic about their most recent marketing campaign titled “Farmed and Dangerous”, which portrays the greed and aggressiveness of a dark and industrial food chain. The four-part series, due to premiere solely on Hulu later this month, which features “PetroPellet” a fictitious petroleum product resulting in exploding cows, reportedly cost Chipotle $1 million in production.

According to Chipotle’s chief marketing and development officer, Mark Crumpacker, the series is intended to be a satirical comedy that points out Agriculture’s aggressiveness to earn a profit, no matter the cost to animal health or well-being. While their over-the-top characters and exploding cows may be humorous, the underlying message has farmers concerned.

If the advertisement is meant solely as a comedy, why go to such lengths to portray the petroleum feed, PetroPellet, as an actual product, complete with a website and promotional videos for a fictitious company, Animoil, which only mentions Chipotle after a visitor digs around the site for more information.

Food With Integrity?

Farmers and ranchers are not happy with the continued attack from Chipotle. With such a production budget and a marketing team that knows how to sell to the emotions of the consuming audience, Chipotle continues to win over fans with information and portrayals that are much less than accurate of our modern food growers. If Chipotle is so adamant about getting us to learn more about where our food comes from, why spend millions on animations and comedies? Why not talk to actual farmers and ranchers who are on the ground and know more about growing food than marketing executives?

The national entities who are supposed to represent American farmers and ranchers, who are a likely target with Farmed and Dangerous, have done a poor job of representation and amplifying farmers’ perspectives. Farmers and Ranchers do not have the marketing budget like Chipotle’s, but they are working to share their perspectives, address the misinformation, and form dialogues with consumers in their communities and across social media.

I send out a challenge to Chipotle’s marketing team. There is no need to hide behind a satirical comedy series or paid actors. Practice what you preach to your audience. Go, seek out the farmers and ranchers producing our food and I do not just mean those growing your “Responsibly Raised”, organic and natural products. Go talk with the farmers and ranchers that you are attacking with your ad campaigns, start a dialogue and let the conversation come from both sides of the plate in order to learn where our food comes from. I am more than happy to help you if you will just stop the attacks on those growing our food.

Other Thoughts on Food With Integrity

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