Chipotle’s Ag Marketing circa 2013

Why do companies with good products feel that they have to use fear and guilt as motivators in their marketing?

Let me start by saying that I really like Chipotle’s food. Those 900some calorie burritos are delicious. Like many in agriculture, I wasn’t fond of the company’s 2011 ad, but it didn’t bother me to the level that I totally stopped eating at their restaurant. This ad was different.

If you haven’t seen the video, I suppose you should watch it so you can see what I’m talking about, but I really don’t feel like sharing the link here. After seeing quite a few tweets with links to the video – some positive, some negative – I decided to see what the fuss was about. One tweet I saw said the video would make me “feel all the feelings”. If the feelings alluded to were distrust, frustration, anger, and disappointment – the author was right.

I watched a chicken getting a shot of something that made it grow instantaneously, and I questioned the implied misinformation. I watched the poor scarecrow slave in the factory, and I got frustrated with this portrayal of modern agriculture. When I saw the black and white Holstein cow locked in a box, though, it struck a nerve, and I was simultaneously angry and disappointed. I don’t know much about chicken or pork production, nothing beyond what I’ve learned from friends that are involved in those industries, but I’m pretty familiar with raising cattle. Maybe it’s selfish of me to not get up-in-arms when somebody insults the pork industry, but Chipotle crossed the line for me when they implied something so blatantly false about raising cattle.

Maybe restaurant marketing executives should consider visiting a farm. They might learn that it’s impossible to raise a cow in a box. Even at a very large farm, cows are not kept in boxes or even in individual stalls. The majority of dairies in the US (including large dairies) house their cattle in free stall barns, where the cows are free to move between feed, water, and bedded stalls. And most beef in the US originates from cow-calf operations, which require a large amount of pasture land.

Cows on Hay Field
Our dry cows and bred heifers graze on our Brome (hay) field each year after we mow and bale the hay.

The problem is, Chipotle clearly doesn’t care about truth in advertising. I think they knew they, at the very least, bent the truth. I think they knew that they’re taking advantage of people’s concerns and fears about food production. And I don’t think they care one bit, as long as it helps them sell burritos. The worst part is, their food tastes really good – they probably could’ve sold a lot of it without making people fear their food.

Food is extremely personal. It’s what sustains us and our families. Food production is also extremely personal. I’ve written multiple times about how important farming is to our family. That’s why these conversations are so difficult to have. That’s why it’s so hard for us, as producers, to stomach the fact that companies like Chipotle have attempted to demonize something we care deeply about. People can and will say “it’s not about your farm”, but it is. Videos like Chipotle’s attempt to portray the entire conventional food system as a factory farm. Heim Dairy Farm is a part of the conventional food system, and I assure you there is no assembly line in sight.

This isn’t about conventional vs. organic or big vs. small. Farmers on all sides are doing great things for food production. Of course there are exceptions, you’ve seen the videos online, and so have I. But there are exceptions in both conventional and organic systems. There are bad apples on large and small farms.

You have choices to make when it comes to what you eat. Please make your decisions wisely and base them on facts. When learning about something, I like to go to the source. If you have a question or concern about agriculture, ask a producer. More and more farmers are making themselves available to consumers through social media. If you can’t find a producer in the sector of agriculture you’re curious about, I’d be happy to try to help.  The truth about most things, including food production is out there if you’re willing to look for it.

Note: This post was updated in 2020. We did successfully boycott Chipotle for years.  Honestly, I’m sure they didn’t notice.  It’s still no longer a top choice, but I have eaten there a few times in the last year or two.  The food still tastes good, and I haven’t gotten food poisoning, so hopefully things are looking up.  On the flip-side of their questionable marketing regarding modern agriculture, Chipotle has a great reputation in the food allergy community, to which we also belong.  We all have choices to make with our spending, and money does talk – don’t be afraid to take a stand for things you believe in.   

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