Chipotle & Panera: Food for thought

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Fear and misinformation. That is the easiest way to describe the advertising tactics of the popular restaurant chains Chipotle and Panera Bread.

ChipotleThis scarecrow is likely dumbfounded by the video he was in. Both chains have been actively pushing non-hormone, antibiotic free, ethically raised meat and poultry products. They’ve both promoted their preferred types of animal protein through artistic, animated videos meant to alter consumer perceptions of conventional agriculture products.

Chipotle’s most recent YouTube slap in the face to farmers and ranchers debuted this past week. It’s a video called “The Scarecrow” that was meant to promote a free video game app where the main character serves Chipotle to consumers “on a journey to bring real food back to the people.” Unfortunately, the video has painted a negative and untrue picture of agriculture.

Cattle, chicken and pigs are run on conveyor belts in a factory straight into a machine that liquefies them before turning the slurry into a more recognizable cut of meat. Other chickens can be seen given a shot with a syringe that instantly makes them balloon up. Dairy cows are milked in boxes stacked on top of one another in a dark building.

This video has just been the tip of the iceberg in a long line of corporate posturing by Chipotle.

click image to zoomPaneraEZ Chicken evidently didn't work as "easy" as Panera thought it would. Last year, Chipotle created a video promoting their campaign “Meat Without Drugs.”  That “science-” based video has only received 65,000 views, while “The Scarecrow” is approaching 5 million views in just six days on YouTube.

The video endeavor that really took the cake for Chipotle was “Back to the Start.” It has well over 7 million views and features a claymation farmer who is doing well for himself. He’s built several large dairies and hog barns, making a really nice operation for he and his family. But after seeing the side-effects that pumping his livestock with antibiotics and a green slime in a “factory farm,” he decides to tear down the barns and sell products to Chipotle. I believe that example will happen when pigs fly.

Panera also jumped into the farmer foray in July with its “EZ Chicken” campaign. The Panera advertising effort fell flat on its face after outcry from agriculture producers. Farmers and rancher were troubled by the assertion that producers utilizing antibiotics were lazy, especially when a series of pictures featuring the pill shaped EZ Chicken made their way around social media.

I’ve got no “beef” with marketing free range, organic, or natural meat and poultry. As long as consumers are supporting animal agriculture by choosing a cut of meat rich in protein, vitamins and minerals, I see nothing wrong with it. However, these promotions have been made on false pretenses that their products are healthier and taste better. There is no hard evidence or facts to back up these claims.

Culver'sThank you Culver's for supporting farmers. If Chipotle and Panera were trying to inspire farmers and ranchers to produce the type of products they are selling, I’d say it was a failed attempt. It just made me not want to eat at those establishments and support their fear-mongering agenda.

How about thanking farmers and ranchers, instead of alienating the producers who work their tails off everyday making sure Americans and the rest of the globe are provided with a safe, healthy and abundant food supply?

Culver’s is a restaurant chain that is making sure that agriculturists are recognized with their “Thank You Farmers” program. With any luck maybe more restaurants will take a page out of Culver’s playbook and avoid the poor examples set by Chipotle and Panera. 

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Bob Milligan    
St. Paul MN  |  September, 18, 2013 at 09:09 AM

I am as appalled as anyone by these awful portrayals of commercial agriculture. We must, however, get beyond our emotional reactions and seek to understand why they are doing this and what it means. Consumers do not really buy milk or food or anything else; their purchase decisions are based on their perceptions of the attributes of the milk, food or other product - price, quality, convenience, etc. The marketing people at Chipolte and Panara Bread are not stupid. They are marketing the attributes their experience and marketing research tells them will entice their target market customers to buy their products. They have found that the attributes "non-hormone, antibiotic free, and ethically raised ..." resonate with their target customers. We certainly are and can be appalled at their practices, but we must be careful not to ignore the message. Those attributes are important to at least a significant share of our consumers, our customers!

Iowa  |  September, 18, 2013 at 09:13 AM

I raise grass fed beef. I raise them on grass because I feel it gives the cattle a better life and it produces a better tasting meat. My customers do as well. I suggest that the feed lot industry needs a campaign improve its image. Reacting negatively, as this blogger does, only reinforces the image that these people have about feedlots. My customers come and visit. They bring their children and we walk into the pastures and look at the cattle. Not many even want to drive by a feedlot let alone walk through one. I am not saying that what I do is better than feedlots. It certainly costs more and takes more land. It is my preference for my land and my life style. Its the same for my customers. Knee jerking and whining does not solve the problem. "Modern Agriculture" needs to improve its image and improve its care of animals. This is the way back.

NEBRASKA  |  September, 18, 2013 at 11:13 AM

Well Bully for you! You missed the point after coming close to getting it. Grass fed, organic, natural-- why the attitude? A huge majority of people can not afford your products and many just do not like them as well as commodity meats. You are lucky to have an economic situation that permits you to do what you prefer and fatten on grass. If too many cattleman do it, you will not be able to afford it because the small niche you supply will be quickly overwhelmed with product. Efficiency feeds the world for better or for worse.

Syracuse, NY  |  September, 18, 2013 at 11:33 AM

Sounds like both Panera and Chipotle need to ditch ad firms that resort to unfounded claims to try to draw in more customers. In my area, Panera and Chipotle, plus the similar Moe's Tex-Mex, all are doing well -- without off-key advertising. What they have in common are fast meals that have a lot of fresh flavor, not too many calories, and variety. The meat portions are easily less than 4 ounces, which probably has a lot to do with their accessible price point.

SD  |  September, 18, 2013 at 01:24 PM

This comes back to us, the family farmer (regardless of size), we've done a terrible job of informing the consumer about our profession. We've forgotten the fact the consumer in general has no ties to the land and absorbs information from the internet, assuming it's correct. It has made an entire activism industry out of bashing farmers. Negative connotations are everywhere- factory farm (which really means I have a barn), GMO (which means I can use less impactful herbicides and insecticides), no rBST (which is impossible since it occurs naturally, especially early lactation). We are losing the public relations battle. Even farmers clash due to differences in farming practices. Panera and Chipotle are big businesses, and they make a lot more selling food than we as farmers do, but they portray such noble standards and are winning the PR battle. So is the answer not selling to their supplier's- is it creating an outlet to own our product farther into the food chain. I'm not sure but there are a lot of people who make a living dumping on farmers. What happens when we have to feed 9 billion people by 2050 with the same farming practices that fed 3 billion in 1960.

Iowa  |  September, 18, 2013 at 01:39 PM

Culver's runs a Thank You Farmers campaign, but is ALSO involved in advertising ABF chicken. "Naturally Tender"

wisconsin  |  September, 18, 2013 at 02:54 PM

There are food producers who will do anything to be a least cost producer. If putting livestock on conveyer belt and milking cows stacked in boxes makes is most profitable, they will justify it claiming it's cheap food for a starving world. There are producers who will push the ethical limit until they are regulated. Meanwhile producers with a conscience will be unable to compete and out of the production cycle.

Wi  |  September, 18, 2013 at 10:43 PM

Loren, no farmer has ever made a living by abusing livestock. Production is enhanced by improving livestock comfort. You may not appreciate modern production methods but I assure you profitability is directly proportional to quality care. While least cost production is one viable management method, your implication that care is trumped by cost is a cynical if not ignorant arguement.

Iowa  |  September, 19, 2013 at 09:52 AM

Bill, I guess we both missed points. The point I unsuccessfully tried to make was that this is a consumer driven change. That people are smarter than you seem to think. They do not feel it is necessary to keep large amounts of cattle crowded into small, muddy paddocks standing butt deep in their own waste when it rains or choking in dust when its dry. They also do not want to think about the millions of chicken crowded into small cages laying eggs or them standing in the dark growing faster than their body can support. These same people do not want to visit hog confinements to see where their next pork chop is coming from. It’s the consumer who is driving changes to our industry. People like Chipotle are trying to make a buck by appealing to these people. It’s a big and growing market. I did say “I am not saying that what I do is better than feedlots. It certainly costs more and takes more land. It is my preference for my land and my life style.” So, I tip my hat to not being able to out produce the feedlots. But, that is not my point. My point is that market like Grass Finished Beef, pastured pigs, pastured chickens are growing quickly because there is a large and quickly growing segment of the market where these issues matter to the consumer and they are willing to pay for the higher (less efficient) cost of production. The market is not being created by my growing grass finished beef. It is being created by peoples’ reactions to all the awful stuff they see and hear on the news and YAHOO. Our industry needs to clean up our act and get with it. Let’s lead the market rather than react negatively. Respectfully, Bill

Iowa  |  September, 19, 2013 at 04:06 PM

00Rancher, thank you for raising your livestock the way you do and speaking up about it. As a rancher myself, I have to agree that it may not always be as cost efficient, but giving the animals a more decent life is what I find to be in good conscience. I think that most people see two different categories - one with pastured animals, and one in severe confinement. We know that there is more of a grey area in between there but most people only see these two. (or neither and could care less) The author of this blog post takes such offense that he assumes that the type of farming that the video shows must be insulting him. I do not know his exact farming practices so I can not say if he should be offended by the video or not, but we know that this is true - modern farming has both extremes and areas in between. Consumers that support Chipotle and free-range farming are looking to support moving away from the severe confinement that Chipotle was trying to show. Regardless of where any farmer/rancher/consumer stands, a 12"x12" cage is nowhere for a hen to spend her entire life. That is only one of the points Chipotle was trying to make.

WI  |  September, 19, 2013 at 04:09 PM

Really Al? This simply is not true 100% of the time. We have seen in the news countless times where undercover video shows animals being treated horrendously. It goes more often unreported. Why do you think we have inspectors?

Kansas  |  September, 19, 2013 at 06:51 PM

I am talking to myself as well as any producer but we really need to quit preaching the amazing ability of the American Ag Producer to ourselves and take that to the American Consumer.

Georgia  |  September, 20, 2013 at 01:32 PM

I complement OORacncher for succinctly, eloquently and politely responding and framing the discussion. I do not need to add to what he said, but have some general comments on this topic. I have a degree in Animal Science, worked as a large animal veterinarian and now am a professor in a veterinary college focusing on diseases of farm animals. So I know a bit about the livestock industry and farm animal welfare. I applaud the US farmer – most are smart hardworking people who do a great job raising their animals and crops. But – they are part of a larger system they must work within. I see an unfortunate trend that is leading to an undesirable place. On the one side we have the ant-GMO anti-new science folks who hate GMO no matter what benefits it might provide to food production and environmental health, and on the other side Agri-business who care nothing more than increasing profits. But too many in mainstream agriculture, as the blogger who wrote this piece about Chipotle and a few of the people who have commented, fail to see that they have developed a strong bias as a consequence of the brain-washing efforts that Agri-business has successfully employed over many years by funding advertising, conferences, research, livestock shows, etc. I hear the defense of industrial-production methods by Agri-business all the time --- we must feed a hungry and growing world population and must use antibiotics, hormones, and other chemical adjuncts to achieve this. That is a big lie. There are alternative approaches with less intensive chemical inputs. [continued in a second post]

Georgia  |  September, 20, 2013 at 01:33 PM

Is big Agri-business really concerned with feeding people? Is that their primary objective? Clearly it is not. Their goal is profits and they just happen to be chasing profits in the food production business. There is nothing wrong with that per se – companies exist to make profits. But let us be honest that this is their primary objective. If you disagree answer this question: If Monsanto or any other big Agri-business company developed a means to substantially increase food production, but the cost of synthesis/production was so high that the sale price made it unfeasible for farmers to use it without losing money, would the company sell their product at a substantial loss for the benefit of man? I think not – I am pretty certain that such a product would sit on the shelf of that company until they could figure a way to sell it for a profit. And we see this with many of the GMO products that are being sold. They are not designed to feed more people; they are designed to make more profits for the company. As a scientist, I feel strongly that GMO is the future – it is the only way we will feed this world in the future. But we need to produce GMO varieties that have natural disease and pest resistance, drought resistance, that can fix nitrogen, etc so that we can produce more food with less pesticides and herbicides and fertilizer – Not more. But unfortunately, that is not what we are seeing. [e.g. seed varieties engineered to resist the herbicides that the same company that sells so that more of that herbicide is used in that production system. And then force the farmer to buy new seed every year.] And we then wonder why GMO gets a bad rep?

Georgia  |  September, 20, 2013 at 01:40 PM

Lastly, regarding Al’s comment; I hear all the time that mis-treating animals is not profitable so farmers will not do it. Though most farmers treat their animals well, it is a complete falsehood to claim that no farmers abuse their livestock. I saw it all the time in veterinary practice – it is a minority but it is common. But the occasional farmer who mistreats their animals is not the point and really is a distraction from the main issue. We should be honest with ourselves; there has been a trend in recent decades toward large-scale livestock production that involves raising animals under conditions that are not natural and are not conducive to their welfare. We get away with doing this by using chemical adjuncts. Yes – it can increase the efficiency of production and therefore reduce production costs per unit, but a large and growing segment of society is not favorable to this. Thus we see the movement of natural and organic production growing, and businesses like Chipotle taking marketing advantages of these trends. Bad mouthing and fighting these trends will not bring victory. Big agri-business should listen to the public and change their practices, and those in the business of raising livestock and crops and blogging about it should take pause and re-consider what they believe as “truths”.

September, 20, 2013 at 02:52 PM

Conjugated Linoleic Acid, or CLA, is a wonder nutrient available only from the meat and milk of grassfed ruminants. Look it up, Bill. Grass efficiency, not "feed efficiency," should be the next holy grail of ruminant livestock production. Efficiency? No other form of efficiency can match the impact on profitability of getting all of our cows and calves to make their living entirely from the land, unless it is taking control of our own markets. Few cattlemen and fewer farmers these days can see beyond the demands and restrictions of the present grain-oriented system. We have tried everything over the past fifty years. Managed grazing of our ruminant livestock has worked when all else failed. Managed grazing of grass-efficient cows can save the farm and save the planet, making people healthier in the process with the easily metabolized nutrition that comes only from grassfed meat and milk, increasing demand for our products. And yes, managed grazing can even moderate the effects of extreme weather on our land, as deep roots and a layer of humus insure better penetration and conservation of rain, reducing devastation during times of drought and flood. Colorado’s center pivots and feedlots didn’t do that nearly as efficiently as prairie grass would have.

Timothy Fitzgerald Young    
Michigan  |  November, 07, 2013 at 02:50 PM

You are the only one to have a bone to pick with them. Chipotle, in conjunction with Huffington Post have infringed on my trademarked name Food For Thought. The all the talk of supporting small farmers, they have trampled this small Michigan farmer. You can read more about it here: Timothy Young Food For Thought, Inc.

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