Chipotle, a chain of Mexican restaurants, has been public enemy No. 1 for American farmers for the past 2 years. As part of its food culture marketing campaign, Chipotle engaged in egregious name calling, fact distorting, and outright slander against the American farmer. All this was in an effort to convince customers that its food was better, safer, and more sustainable than what customers could get down the street. Farm groups have tried to communicate, educate, and even placate Chipotle, but to no avail. Almost 2 years ago, I wrote a column that suggested we were wasting our time because Chipotle did not want to be educated about the truth — that it had a marketing plan that was working and that was all it cared about. Now I can say, I told you so.
I suggested at the time the Chipotle video stirred up the hornets’ nest of anger, that the goal was not to make farmers mad but simply to sell more product. Recent facts have come to light that prove that fact. Once praised by the local, organic, free range, anti-GMO, simple, sustainable, and humane crowd, Chipotle has now found itself being harshly criticized by the very people it was trying to impress. It turns out that Chipotle likes to say it is different when, in reality, it acts just like any other big national restaurant chain.
For example, Chipotle doesn’t do all of its own cooking: some is done by an outside company, the same one that makes McDonald’s McNuggets, Big Macs, and McRibs. Chipotle’s website says its “fresh cooking” is done “using classic culinary techniques — no shortcuts.” But Chipotle doesn’t do all of its own cooking: two outside processing companies in Chicago, OSI and Miniat Holdings, braise the carnitas and barbacoa, trim the steaks, cook the beans, and make the bases for the restaurant’s green and red tomatillo salsas.
Another issue that is not going over well is the fact that Chipotle is importing grass-fed beef from Australia. Last month, Chipolte CEO Steve Ells announced that the company was sourcing grass-fed beef from Australia, saying “The U.S. supply isn’t growing quickly enough to match our demand.” Many US grass-fed producers says this is a load of “bull”. Several US cattle organizations are claiming they were never contacted by the chain and that they have producers in the US who would be willing to meet the need.
Chipotle’s ingredients include GMOs and trans fats. What??? How can this be? Despite backing GMO labeling, Chipotle’s tortillas and tortilla chips are still made with GMO corn and soybean oil. The tortillas are also made with hydrogenated oils, better known as trans fats. According to the Buzz Feed news service, Chipotle chefs are also looking for ways to make tortillas without hydrogenated oils and lard.
The chain is also is finding that its way of doing business is not politically correct with the social justice crowd. Chipotle’s two CEOs were paid a combined $49.5 million in 2013, while the average entry-level employee salary starts at $21,000. Contrast this with IKEA which announced this past week that they were going to pay all their employees a living wage that, in most cases, is well above minimum wage.
So all you ag advocates, bloggers, and farmer activists: you can lay off picking on Chipotle for a while. Its former supporters are doing a great job of showcasing what Chipotle’s food culture is really all about: profits for Chipotle. Told you!
By Gary Truitt