Does Chipotle care about farmers?

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It’s one step forward and two steps back for Chipotle.

Chipotle’s short “Scarecrow” film sparked outrage among the agricultural community while earning praises among consumers and advertising gurus, but what does Chipotle’s own cheese provider think?

Christina Winch, a dairy farmer from southwest Wisconsin, was recently featured on the Dairy Carrie blog. Winch and her family are one of Chipotle’s cheese suppliers.

While “Scarecrow” was disappointing to Winch, she also sees a different side to Chipotle.

When Winch and her family signed on to provide cheese to Chipotle restaurants, they agreed to the company’s Food With Integrity program procedures, which includes allowing a company representative to visit the farm several times a year.

So far, Winch has been impressed.

“Chipotle is using people with agriculture backgrounds or farmers themselves to promote their Food With Integrity program and check up on current farms participating in the program.  I think that is great.  They realize they need to have experts in that area do the work for them.  For that, I give Chipotle a pat on back,” she wrote.

However, Winch doesn’t give Chipotle a free pass. 

“I feel Chipotle has made a good start, but took a wrong turn when they released their Scarecrow video.  I would like to see them release some videos along the same lines of those trading cards where they take consumers on a tour of the farms producing the food they serve in the restaurants,” Winch continued. “Those of us in the agriculture industry need to keep praising Chipotle for the good things they are doing, and educate them on what we do so they can accurately communicate with their customers where food comes from."

Read Winch’s full response here.

Others within the industry are less forgiving. Paul Dyk, dairy technical service manager with Quality Liquid Feeds, called out the company last week in an email sent to Chipotle’s customer service center.

“Is there anyone on your team that understands the dairy industry? Really? Do you know that modern dairy practices result in healthier cows, a smaller carbon footprint, and a more efficient use of resources (more gallons milk per gallon of oil, water, and land). Do you have any research to back up what you are claiming?” Dyk asked.

The company responded, defending their position and explained it wasn’t intended to be taken literally.

“We recognize that modern agriculture provides many benefits to farmers, animals, the environment and eaters,” the customer service representative wrote.  “Our marketing team frequently visits farms and dairies, and we actually employ a team of people who travel to all our supplier’s operations to audit their practices. We have stepped in the mud and because we have done so, we wanted to spark a conversation about these issues that impact anyone who eats.”

So far, Chipotle’s video has shown that marketing to the social media-driven millennials doesn’t necessarily inspire conversation.

The majority of responses from consumers are using the film as fact, leaving farmers to correct the misconceptions. However, many of these responses have fallen onto deaf ears. Read some of the pro-agriculture responses here.

Paul Jeschke, an Illinois farmer, explained that Chipotle would “prefer for us to continue to farm as we did in our great-grandparents' time.  Yet, these folks don't want to live their lives like their great-grandparents did.”

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George S. Reagan    
Fort Worth, Texas  |  September, 26, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Maybe the dairy industry needs to do an end around and publish their own "scarecrow' or "pumpkin head" video that counters everything. After all .... it's a Freedom of Speech thing. Go for it.

get eye exam    
Midwest  |  September, 26, 2013 at 05:52 PM

I second George's comment about making a video on how it's REALLY done :) That would do the trick! Maybe some more dancing, extremely chatty cows, or perhaps more bipedal cows in shower caps? Excellent.

kansas  |  September, 26, 2013 at 08:56 PM

"Does Chipolte care about farmers?" That's a silly question. Chipolte is a Corporation, not a person. Why not ask if Chipolte cares about the Electricity Supplier? Or their Water Supplier? Or their Light Bulb Supplier? Chipolte, the Corporation, cares about their business - sales, expenses, profits, taxes, etc. Do the People of Chipolte care about farmers? No, they care about their jobs, coming from sales & profits. Marketing is Business, not some kind of Personal Relationship, no matter what the Marketing Materials say. The only response Chipolte, the Corporation, understands is hurting or helping their business. Only the suckers targeted by their Marketing believe otherwise. Hurt their business and they'll change their approach. Attack, attack, attack, don't waste resources to "educate" or "negotiate". BTW, their helpful visits to farms are simply part of their Marketing Program - nothing more.

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