“But sourcing beef from cattle raised with antibiotics or added growth hormones? No, thanks. And if ever the very best Responsibly Raised(R) beef isn’t available, we’ll let you know. Who could have a beef with that?”

Your everyday American beef cattle producer. That’s who!

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

That’s how the full page advertisement at the back of this month’s Men’s Health Magazine sums up with Chipotle Mexican Grill’s push for their Responsibly Raised(R) beef. For a company that pushes so hard for “Food With Integrity”, they have quite the storied history of insisting American farmers and ranchers lack integrity. Being a company that certainly hasn’t maintained full integrity in their marketing campaigns in the past, I find it hard to trust this restaurant chain when it comes to providing me fresh and wholesome food.

I don’t want to portray a message that I’m against food choices, which might include vegan, vegetarian, organic, natural, non-GMO, etc. options on the menu. If that’s a choice you want to make, fine. That’s your choice. Doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

What I do “have a beef” with is perpetuation of false and misinformation, companies who utilize fear mongering to line their own pockets, portray those who disagree with their beliefs as “evil” and refuse to be transparent and open to perspectives that may disprove their own biases.

I get it. This is 2015 and we live in a food world with a buffet of buzzwords. It is fashionable to go with the trends, cater to the latest craze and be “all natural” when selecting what’s best for our health – especially when it comes to what we put in our own bodies. But I don’t understand how a company can so blatantly disrespect farmers and ranchers and profit off it.

Chipotle Mexican Grill has a history of ruffling feathers in their campaign to serve Food With Integrity. Despite being approached about spreading misinformation, use of fear mongering, and misrepresentation of modern farming practices, Chipotle has yet to engage with meaningful dialogue with those asking to clarify statements made.

Despite having 1,800 locations across the U.S., Chipotle still portrays an image of itself to be a local- and farmer-friendly restaurant chain. Yet, when they’re approached about serving actual local products in their stores, the opportunity always seems to be refused (from the top) based on price. Notably, the restaurant touts its “Responsibly Raised” food ingredients, focusing on sustainability, and chooses to ship its beef from Australia, rather than sourcing it from sustainable ranches in the U.S.

I’ve written about Chipotle’s lack of integrity in marketing and use of fear to sell 1,000+ calorie burritos on several occasions throughout the years. Here is a timeline of notable events with links to posts describing in more detail.

Back to the Start pushes Cultivating a Better World

Chipotle Mexican Grill first hit my radar in 2011 with their first mega animated advertisement. “Back to the Start” featured a Willie Nelson cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist”. The cartoon followed an evolution of animal agriculture, transforming from wide open prairies to factories oozing waste into waterways and antibiotics pumping along at high speed.

Essentially, Chipotle began their narrative that the family farmer has been replaced by factory farms and we should trust Chipotle to source our safe food. Even at this point we can identify a huge gap between public perception and reality when it comes to these modern production methods. And Chipotle was using this gap to their advantage.

At this point, Chipotle was ramping up their Food With Integrity marketing campaign, asking audiences to help them Cultivate a Better World. Chipotle established their trademark of serving “Responsibly Raised” foods, whenever possible or practical for their market. The company identified it primary concerns with food animal production as concerns with hormones, antibiotics and animal housing.

Chipotle restaurants have served these Responsibly Raised foods when convenient for their market, on several occasions serving conventional products when their preferred were in short supply, simply making the switch with a sign of apology to customers. Obviously, convention food products are still considered safe enough to be served on the burrito line.

Animated Scarecrow Instills Fear in Meat

Chipotle returned to the animation rooms in 2013 with the release of “The Scarecrow” video and an accompanying mobile game. This animation encourages the audience to Cultivate a Better World. The ad depicts another animated factory setting where the main character, a scarecrow, as he travels through a factory world of food production and finds solace in his garden. The video closes with a scene of the Scarecrow serving Chipotle’s tacos, with no apparent meat ingredients.

The Scarecrow ad clearly is aimed to appeal to consumer emotions at several levels, featuring a longing sentiment for days with clearer skies and the big wailing eyes of a cow that’ll pull at the heartstrings. Chipotle’s Chief Marketing Officer, Mark Crumpacker, said the restaurant chain hopes to encourage consumers to learn more about where our food comes from and learn about the differences of processed and real foods.

However, Chipotle Mexican Grill wants to dictate what consumers are able to learn about our food. The company continues a record of limiting conversations with conventional agriculture producers who feel targeted by their ad campaigns.

Farmed and Dangerous Brings Big Budget Against Agriculture

In perfect timing with the hype surrounding anticipated Super Bowl advertisements, Chipotle announced a four-part series on Hulu in early 2014, with an estimated budget of $1 million just on production. The series clearly portrays agriculture as a villain with the star feature, “petropellet”, being fed to cows to make them grow more quickly, which ends up being an explosive situation, literally. The idea of petropellet is to improve efficiency and just feed cows fossil fuels instead of investing the resources in crop production.

Mark Crumpacker presented the ad, titled Farmed and Dangerous, as a satirical comedy that points out agriculture’s aggressiveness to earn a profit, no matter the cost to animal health or well-being.

This campaign gave me the motivation to write an article for CNN challenging Chipotle to reach out to farmers and ranchers being attacked in their ad campaigns. Well, apparently it did enough to earn me a phone call.

Chipotle Answers Questions in Series of Phone Conversations

Over the course of a month, I had several conversations with a representative of Chipotle’s marketing team in NYC. He gave the expected coined and boxed responses in defense of the company’s marketing campaigns, but we did have some insightful conversation. Once I pushed with 20 questions submitted from farmers and ranchers across the country, the marketing guy redirected the conversations, refusing to answer directly, and tried pawning me off on someone else. Eventually, my calls were not returned.

I wrote a three-part series as a result of those phone conversations:

Chipotle Shows Lack of Sustainability in Sourcing Meat

Over the past few years, according to many conversations I’ve had, Chipotle executives and restaurant managers have been approached many times with the prospect of sourcing beef, pork and poultry from farmers and ranchers local to their store locations, but it seems the conversations always comes down to price with Chipotle bulking at paying a slight premium above conventional markets.

This desire to hit their price points before sticking to their marketing claims was made more evident in their 2014 decision to purchase beef from Australia. Chipotle claimed not to be able to source enough sustainable beef in the U.S. to meet their Responsibly Raised standards. There is plenty of beef in the U.S. that meets Chipotle’s sustainability standards. They just refuse to pay for it.

In early 2015, Chipotle added frustration for its customers when it removed pork from its menu board, citing a shortage because one of its major pork supplies failed to meet the Responsibly Raised standards. This event was timed just perfectly for a promotion of Chipotle vegetarian options. Pulling pork items also revealed questions in the sustainability of Chipotle’s marketing structure.

Chipotle Receives Major Criticism for non-GMO

At end of April 2015, Chipotle announced it would no longer be serving Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in its restaurants. This announcement was a huge push for publicity, seeing as it began labeling ingredients containing GMOs back in 2013. This time, they made final changes to cooking oils and tortilla ingredients. Several media outlets pointed out the flaws and lack of integrity with Chipotle’s move.

In summary, Chipotle Mexican Grill has been frustrating for the food and agriculture community, as well as its consumers. They perpetuate fear and misinformation in their marketing efforts, refuse to have productive dialogue with farmers and ranchers, are deceiving in their marketing tactics and refuse to own up to their lack of integrity. It’s incredibly frustrating to see a restaurant getting away with being able to slander the work of American farmers and ranchers, all in an effort to fill their pocket books.

***This post will continue to be updated as deemed necessary***