Chipotle Food With Integrity

This post is part of the People’s Insights monthly briefs issue of January 2014.

Chipotle Mexican Grill is a US-based chain of fast food restaurants, famous for its ‘Food With Integrity’ positioning. The company has been sourcing ‘naturally raised’ food since 2001 and this mission features prominently in its stores and advertisements. While there are no government standards for ‘naturally raised’ food, Chipotle defines it as food raised without antibiotics or hormones, raised outdoors, and sourced locally while in season. Chipotle requires suppliers to sign an affidavit and conducts audits to ensure its high standards are met.


Chipotle’s message made headlines in 2011, when the brand released the animated film Back to the Start (8 million views), which shows how farmers moved from good ‘natural farming’ to ‘bad industrial farming’ – and why some are moving back. In 2013, the brand released another animated film The Scarecrow (11 million views) and accompanying iOS game, which are set in an exaggerated over-industrialized world in which ‘natural’ food is a rarity. Both films shocked audiences not used to seeing such messages from fast food chains. Chipotle’s message was clear and direct: Chipotle is not part of the problem. Chipotle is different from other fast food chains.

Video: Back to the Start

Back to the Start, Chipotle’s first ever TV ad, contributed to a 23.4% increase in sales and a jump in market share from 14.1% to 16.7% in the US in 2011 (via AdAge). The film was awarded the first branded content grand prix at Cannes Lions 2012.

However, Chipotle was – and is – still subject to the negative halo effect of the fast food industry. Critics like the Better Business Bureau challenged Chipotle’s claims (and found they were true), and several social conversations show that some people are still unwilling to trust the fast food industry.

Over the years, Chipotle has launched several initiatives to back up its claims of sustainability and integrity. Chipotle joined the Fair Food Program in 2012 amidst pressure from human rights NGOs following its sponsorship of the largely anti-fast food documentary Food Inc. In 2011, Chipotle created the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation non-profit “dedicated to creating a sustainable, healthful and equitable food future.” The company has organized several fund-raisers and donated funds to the foundation and related causes. CEO Steve Ellis has also brought visibility to Chipotle’s mission as a judge for NBC’s America’s Next Great Restaurant.


Journey ahead

While Chipotle is making large strides in ethical food sourcing, sustainable building of stores and sustainable packaging, a major reputational issue that plagues the fast food industry is employee wages. Chipotle pays minimum wages but touts its structure for growth – 98% of managers at the chain’s stores were hired from within. It helps that Chipotle doesn’t follow a franchise model and owns all its stores. But the halo effect may affect it negatively on this issue too, and the company may have to address employee wages with the same zeal as it does food sourcing. Not an easy feat with its premium food prices already higher than market, a weak economy and competitors like Taco Bell offering competing products (which happen to be cheaper and contain less calories). Not to mention the fact that while people intend to buy green, they don’t always do so.

01 January – People’s Insights Monthly Briefs by MSLGROUP

About People’s Insights

100+ thinkers and planners within MSLGROUP share and discuss inspiring projects – that are driving engagement with stakeholders – on the MSLGROUP Insights Network. Every month, we pick the best projects and analyse conversations around them, on the MSLGROUP Insights Network itself and also on the broader social web, into an insights report. Every quarter, we compile original insights from the MSLGROUP global network into the People’s Insights Quarterly Magazine.

In our first year and half, we focused on inspiring consumer projects around social data, crowdsourcing, storytelling and citizenship. We synthesized the insights to provide foresights for business leaders and change-makers in the ten-part People’s Insights annual report titled Now & Next: Ten Frontiers for the Future of Engagement, also available as a Kindle eBook and an iPad app.

In 2013, we launched “The Future of” series with a focus on CitizenshipMoney and Employee (Re)Engagement. In 2014, we continue to track inspiring projects that are shaping the future of engagement, with a focus on reputation, employee engagement and citizenship.

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi Chimnani

Nidhi is Director of Research and Insights at MSLGROUP. She tracks digital consumer trends for People’s Insights and is community manager of MSLGROUP’s insights community SPRINT. Tweet her at @nidhichimnani

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