Chipotle Grill’s irresponsible marketing needs to get real

By Si Cook

I read an article last week about how Chipotle Grill is promoting the natural, organic ingredients that they use to make the majority of their menu items. “That’s nice,” I thought—until I learned the rest of the story about their marketing tactics.

It seems Chipotle has developed and launched a marketing campaign designed to drive customers to their restaurants through fear and mistrust of modern agriculture practices. They developed a folksy, animated video featuring a song by Coldplay and performed by Willie Nelson.

Through this video and other methods of advertising, they are making the case that modern production methods are cruel, destructive and unhealthy. They revive the tired old argument that production agriculture should revert back to the methods used 70 years ago. They suggest we deny the agriculture industry the use of technology and economy of scale. (Wonder how the Chipotle chain grew to more than 1,000 stores nationwide?)

The methods Chipotle suggests sound great, but they are not—to use another popular word here—sustainable on a global level. We will shortly face the challenge of providing food and fiber to roughly 9 billion people worldwide. I’m not a scientist or mathematician, but I can tell you that producing food and fiber for the daily needs of this many people is simply not possible using the technology and production methods of 70 years ago—when the world population was less than 3 billion. It’s kind of like asking the auto industry to go back to making each car by hand, or suggesting that we do away with our word processors and go back to using manual typewriters—without expecting any decrease in production.

I have no problem with Chipotle, or anyone else for that matter, promoting natural and/or organic ingredients. This is an honest and viable market that many consumers respond positively to every day.

I do take exception however, when any entity blatantly disparages other modern agricultural practices for the sake of market share. Let’s be clear here: modern agricultural practices and the technology used to implement them allow the agricultural community to provide safe and affordable food and fiber to an exploding population.

 Both human and animal health has steadily increased, and we are well prepared to address expected continued population growth. Suggesting that the advances we have made in agriculture during the past 70 years are somehow evil and destructive is simply irresponsible.

Si Cook has been involved with animal husbandry and the livestock industry for more than 40 years. He also serves as Organization director of Texas Farm Bureau.

 

9 Responses to “Chipotle Grill’s irresponsible marketing needs to get real”

  1. don sugarek says:

    THANK YOU Si.

    Well articulated, to the point and very much appreciated by another long time ag. producer.

    It is so sad that our general public cannot see the big picture because a little snapshot is all they want to understand.

  2. Danelle Schwertner says:

    I think that modern agriculture has worked well for the last 70 years, and I understand the point of view you are trying to promote. However…what happens when technology fails? Because it will. We cannot continue the way we are in energy consumption and destruction of our natural resources and expect things to stay the same. It is becoming more and more of a challenge every day just to keep our energy grid stable. And when our modern technology DOES fail, then who will be responsible for taking care of people? It isn’t going to be the large-scale producers, because how are commodities going to be handled without the technology they have come to rely on? It is going to have to be the smaller-scale producers that have a better chance at working with local consumers.

    I think that large-scale producers are necessary, as well, especially for global programs. But there is nothing wrong with capitalizing on small-scale, organic producers.

    Take a look around at all the local Farmer’s Markets that are becoming more and more popular around the country. People DO value what they receive there, and they are making sure that they keep receiving those options by supporting the local guys.

  3. so using petrochemical fertilizers and poison on our food is a better option? It’s not like organic farming is exactly "70 years" dated and thus unreliable, you can still produce large quantities of food either way.

  4. Mr. Schwertner, I agree whole-heartedly that organic, natural and locally produced food are very well-received and have a valued place in our food system. I have visited many producers, processors and marketers who specialize in all of the above mentioned areas and have the utmost respect for what they do and what they produce. My point is, that it is simply wrong to insunuate that all other types of food production that is not organic, natural or local is somehow destructive to the environment or our health.

    Farmers Markets today are very pleasant affairs where consumers who choose to do so can leisurely stroll through and select the very best in locally produced food. In many instances the vendors at these markets quickly run out of the items that are in most demand. Take away the same products that are now found in grocery stores (that are also safe and of high quality) but may not be produced organically or locally, and we’ll see how pleasant the competition is for the produce that is available organically and locally. "Food fight" takes on a new meaning!

    I am an advocate of supporting the local guy, and do so myself, but unless half of us want to dedicate a large portion of our time to growing food – let’s don’t criticize the very small group of dedicated folks who do.

  5. Danelle, why are you so certain technology always fails? There’s no more reason to expect that modern agricultural technology will fail than our communications technology would. Now there’s a potential calamity. Dan – We’ve had this argument before. You should know that certification for large scale organic operations allows for the use of some chemicals. About the only way to be absolutely certain of such things is to grow it yourself. I know it’s hard to argue science when emotion carrys the day, but, the very bulky weight of scientific evidence states that the extra land required in organic production is not feasible on a "feed the world" scale. Also, the land required for the livestock to produce organic fertilizer boggles the mind. You will say that my mind is easily boggled, but no one has answered that problem satisfactorily.

    No one is bashing organic here. The bashing pretty much runs the other way. Organic if thriving here in the well fed and mostly wealthy western hemisphere and that’s wonderful. We have members working hard to meet that need. However, we fall out when bashing of other means of production are part of the marketing plan.

  6. Danelle Schwertner says:

    Si…its Mrs., not Mr… :)

    I do understand what both you and Mr. Hall are saying, and I am not bashing large-scale agriculture. I understand that it is easier to feed the world in large quantities. And you are right, Mr. Hall – we are pretty well-fed here in the western hemisphere. I don’t necessarily think Chipotle should be bashing large-scale production, either. It all comes down to the marketing aspect of it.

    But the article made it sound as if TXFB feels that the "organic" methods are hokey. This is simply NOT true. I would love to see a global organic growers initiative that provided the tools, knowledge and financial resources to create self-sufficient organic productions all over the world, giving communities the ability to be self-sustaining. Unfortunately, this is probably not something that will happen.

    Also, Mr. Hall, the day is coming when all technology will fail, up to and including communications technology. Take a look at the "Prophets of Doom" from the History Channel. The experts on the show are leading scientists and economists. They know of what they speak. Its going to happen. The only question is "When?"…

  7. Dannelle – I guess we trust technology because we must – in agriculture, medicine or commnications. And, it’s been a wealth creating and people serving boon. I take some comfort in that the "prophets of doom" are not always right. Remember Y2K?

    Thanks for participating in our discussion.

  8. Danelle Schwertner says:

    You are right, Gene, we do trust technology because that is what we have. But I think its all right to be prepared for the day that we won’t be able to. 😉

    I enjoyed the discussion!

  9. No need for bashing either organic or conventional farming. I think what we’re all looking for is a way to produce the food we need sustainably – without harming the environment and our own health in the process.

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