chipotle big food scarecrow advertisementAs I mentioned in the previous post (See Part 1 here), I’ve spent the past few weeks chatting with marketing managers from Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) about their Food With Integrity (FWI) campaign. It’s a topic that began a few years back and includes several high-profile ad campaigns – Back to the Start, Scarecrow, and Farmed and Dangerous. Their use of fear-based marketing hasn’t set well with many farmers and ranchers across the country, a marketing approach that CMG continues to deny. They want to spark a conversation about what they view as systemic problems and corporate dominance in food production, and I want to do my part to have agriculture be a part of that conversation. This despite CMG’s best efforts to moderate agriculture’s inclusion in public comment threads.

Why market food as good versus bad production methods?

Chipotle’s website admittedly articulates their stance and approach to the issues poorly. The approach to being different in the food business stems from a belief that we consume too many processed foods (a point with which I can agree) and too many animal products. Immediately following this point, CMG wants to heavily emphasize they’re not advocating for vegan diets. CMG believes the systemic issues in our food supply and consumption habits are not healthy for us or the environment.

I might add that this is ironic, considering many of their burritos can include as much as 1,100 calories. A point which CMG admits is a weak point in the marketing, but it is within the customer’s option to reduce the portion size. I suggest, if you’re aiming to provide healthier eating options for customers, why not have these smaller portion sizes on the menu?

Chipotle doesn’t want to be known for their negative marketing tactics (despite their three largest marketing campaigns having negativity at the heart of the messaging). They’d love to focus on more positive material, but it doesn’t attract the attention or viewership that darker campaign material has. (Note: CMG does have a few¬†farmer-focused videos on their website, granted the spots highlight choice of production method, rather than featuring the farmer.) Boiling it all down, Chipotle doesn’t wish to point fingers at farmers, but rather the commoditization of food. They just want to provide “simple food, that not complicated; made with whole, fresh ingredients.”

What has Chipotle done to reach out to farmers and ranchers?

When I asked the FWI marketing manager (who we’re referring to as Chip), what CMG has done to reach out to farmers and ranchers to decide how food should be produced, I received the usual spill on how their auditing teams are always out on the road, visiting farms all the time, and communicating that information to the supply team at CMG. That’s great, but what about building conversations and gaining insight from those producers who do not fit the parameters of their desired supply chain?

(I am very thankful for the time they’ve taken to talk with me on the phone and through email.)

I’ll have to agree with Chip when he says that there seems to be two sides to these conversations, operating with two different sets of “facts”, that don’t seem to add up. The conversations centered around food production tend to involve a lot of emotion and will heat up quickly. This usually ends up in a marketing pitch battle rather than a dialogue and cannot end up in a true, productive conversation.

What is Chipotle doing to follow-up on their call for dialogue?

What I have a hard time agreeing with Chip on is when he says that there needs to be certain values agreed upon before engagement in dialogue can move forward. I find that hard to believe that any dialogue will ever be productive if there’s a standard of principles that must be agreed upon before starting the conversation. However, when you step back and look at the emotionally charged subjects we’re dealing with and the amount of anger that is sometimes expressed with strong reactions, it might make a little more sense that productive dialogues are hard to come by. And then again, I find myself agreeing with Chip that the “PR machines” (his term, not one that I agree with) in the industry often times prevent genuine messages from getting through in public forums. I think this sentiment applies to both sides of the table with these topics at hand.

An example given for this type of PR message brought to the table that CMG doesn’t agree with is that “we cannot feed the world without GMO crops or industrialized food.” Given that we have about as many people starving in this world as there are obese, some may see this issues as more of a food distribution issue, than a production method.

The goal and underlying message for the FWI campaign from Chipotle’s perspective is the need for making our food system better. It’s their desire to point out what they perceive as systemic problems in a corporate dominated production chain. They don’t wish to point fingers at farmers and ranchers, but at the same time, they have a difficult time connecting with or understanding the emotional responses of those who do not align with their ideal production methods. There were definitely a few questions about those subjects, which will be discussed in Part 3 of this series on my chat with Chipotle. Stay tuned.

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