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Why both of Chipotle's visions are fiction

Last month, the Associated Press published a story about Chipotle, a $4 billion restaurant chain with 1,783 locations halting the sale of pork to one-third of its restaurants due to a “supplier” (aka a farmer), being found raising pigs without providing them access to the outdoors or to deeply bedded barns, a violation of Chipotle’s Food With Integrity standards.

The story spread like a grease fire on the internet as the Wall Street Journal, NY Times, Fortune, CNN, The Denver Post, Christian Science Monitor, Des Moines Register and even agricultural outlets paid the story forward either in totality or slightly amended versions.

Piecing a few of these versions together one can gain a fuller, yet far from complete, understanding of exactly what happened and why burrito lovers everywhere will be deprived of naturally raised pork.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Chipotle suspended its supplier (aka a farmer) without disclosing the farmer’s name, noting only that the farmer had not failed previous audits. An unnamed spokesperson for Chipotle then goes on to talk about the differences between raising animals conventionally versus those given access to the outdoors and more comfortable bedding.

“The differences in animal welfare between pigs raised this way and pigs that are conventionally raised [are] stark, and we simply won’t compromise our standards this way.”

Message received!

Chipotle’s strong sense of food integrity has provoked them to draw a definitive line in the sand putting all supply chain partners on notice. The Associated Press, Wall Street Journal, Des Moines Register, et al. were all-too-happy to multiply this message without even a pinch of investigative journalism where a penetrating question or two might just reveal this to be more of a public relations ruse than news.

Here are just a few questions the media overlooked:

  • Why is the company spokesman for Chipotle not named in the Wall Street Journal version when he is identified in the Associated Press version as Chris Arnold, PR Director for Chipotle?
  • Why is the pork farmer not named? If Chipotle is trying to change farming behavior then let’s out the farmer providing names and locations.
  • If Chipotle eschews large farms then why does a single supplier (aka a farmer) impact over 594 restaurants?
  • How can a pork farmer who has never failed audits before suddenly fail to give pigs access to the outdoors and deeply bedded barns? What was the farmer’s motivation?
  • What stores are affected by this shutdown? Is it geographic or regional?
  • What about the pork already in the stores, if it’s a violation of FWI are you throwing the pork away?
  • How long did it take to reveal the pork supplier wasn’t abiding by your FWI standards? How many audits did the pork farmer pass before being discovered?
  • What happens when Chipotle suspends a pork farmer? What are the ramifications for the farm? How many violations can a farmer commit before they are dropped as a supplier?
  • How often are “routine” audits conducted?
  • How quickly can this situation be rectified so the consumer doesn’t have to suffer from not eating Chipotle carnitas raised “naturally?”
  • Does “access to the outdoors” mean pigs have an option to go outside or are they placed outside? Since the differences are “stark” precision is paramount.
  • If pigs are given a choice to go outside how often do they choose to do that? Does this vary in the winter?
  • How is this offense more egregious than say conventionally raised beef which Chipotle continues to sell when they run out of “naturally raised” beef?
  • Why has Chipotle determined this is where they will draw the line in the sand?
  • What do patrons think of the pork shortage? Do they believe consumption of pork given access to outdoors is a more justified eating experience than pigs living indoor?
  • What would motivate Chipotle, a publicly held company, to alert the media to a supply shortage knowing it could have negative economic repercussions?
  • By now, those who have been exposed to Chipotle or follow trends in food marketing should recognize them as the leader of the new wave of food system reformers. Ranked in the top 15 food restaurant chains by QSR magazine, Chipotle regularly promotes “all natural” products “they believe” taste better, meanwhile filling consumers with vague notions of factory farms, synthetic hormones, genetically modified organism’s (GMO’s), caged animals, antibiotics, hormones, waste lagoons and monocultures.

Chipotle presents a tale of two food systems: One, pristine and natural; the other, un-natural, employing technology and abiding in the shadowy depths somewhere between the third and fourth level of Dante’s Inferno (Gluttony & Greed). Of course, Chipotle wants consumers to know they reside on the pristine side, yet even a cursory review of Food With Integrity shows carefully deployed escape clauses allowing Chipotle to consistently borrow from the other side of the food system whenever it becomes necessary and/or convenient.

What is Food with Integrity? According to Chipotle…

  • It means that whenever possible we use meat from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or added hormones. 

  • And it means that we source organic and local produce when practical.
  • A majority of the cheese and sour cream we serve at Chipotle comes from pasture-raised cows. This means that cows have daily access to outdoor pastures, are never given added hormones, and are fed an all vegetarian, plant-based diet.chipotle no pork 
  • In addition to our sour cream, 65% of our cheese is produced with pasture-raised dairy - a number that we are working hard to increase. (I’m no mathematician but doesn’t that leave an awkward 35% to be sourced from non-pasture raised dairies? What potentiallydangerous side effects result from sour cream or cheese derived from cows not raised on pasture?)
  • Beef- When we started purchasing naturally raised beef in 1999 we could hardly find any suppliers that met our standards. (Pssst…Chipotle’s first store opened in 1993 giving the company six years of feeding customers, I guess, “unnaturally” raised beef. As any small business owner will tell you the first few years of a business are crucial. According to Bloomberg, 80% of businesses fail within the first 18 months. So, Chipotle not only survived but thrived, propelled by the very same farmers and food system they now claim are evil.)
  • Today, thanks to increased demand, we source 100% of our beef from ranches that meet or exceed our naturally raised standards. Once in awhile we do experience a shortage in certain areas of the country and we’ll let you know at the restaurants if that happens.

It seems Chipotle, like McDonald’s a former owner of Chipotle, is fond of using words without accountability as to their meaning (McDonald’s word is sustainability).

Integrity means adherence to moral and ethical principles; the state of being whole; unimpaired, uncorrupted. Yet, as the FWI statements above clearly indicate, Chipotle only abides by FWI when it’s convenient. Never mind integrity by definition is doing the right thing all the time even when it works to your financial disadvantage.

If Chipotle faithfully abided by their FWI position, supply chain adversity would merely serve as a trial forging principles.

 Instead, while Chipotle may have recently increased its purchases of naturally raised meat, free range pork, local and organically grown vegetables, sour cream and cheese from animals not treated with rbST (recombinant bovine somatotropin), the fact remains, without the conventionally raised meats, confined animals, internationally sourced, non local, non organic, rbST dairy cow supplemented sour cream and cheese, they would have never reached the 1783 store mark!

Chipotle routinely abandons FWI because in the end, as ADWEEK’s David Griner noted, “they’re hustling burritos.”

So how is this latest “news” story just another form of deception?

In every instance where Chipotle’s “pork supply stoppage” story appears the following paragraph can be found:

On other occasions, Chipotle customers may have noticed signs saying a restaurant is serving meat that doesn't meet the company's "responsibly raised" standards. That's typically because Chipotle has trouble securing supplies of beef raised without antibiotics or hormones, Arnold said. The company then serves beef that was "conventionally raised." That is not happening with the carnitas, however. "In this case, we won't make that kind of substitution," Arnold said in an email.

Notice, Chipotle is straining to show its integrity in its pork supply chain by contrasting it to their very own beef supply chain where they routinely violate their own FWI standards. Rather then a news story this is just Chipotle's PR department closely monitoring social media and detecting a growing credibility gap among consumers, especially youth, questioning the authenticity of FWI. In response, Chipotle offered up a sacrificial pig, a topping according to the Associated Press representing only 6% - 7% of toppings sold (notice it wasn’t a chicken farmer found to be out of step). Therefore, the short-term, self-inflicted wound of abstaining from selling carnitas is merely a ploy attempting to give girth to an untenable, sagging FWI position. Lest you think this far-fetched, I remind you this is the same company that faked its Twitter account being hacked just two years ago in order gain publicity for its 20th anniversary. At the time, Chris Arnold told Mashable, "We thought that people would pay attention, that it would cut through people's attention and make them talk, and it did that.” Judging by the pass- through value of this purported news story, Arnold’s short-term pain for long-term public relations gain is working again.

To provide further evidence for our conclusion, let’s draw on a little farm knowledge contrasting two scenarios: One, continually re-occurring within Chipotle’s beef food chain, while the other has suddenly warranted a shut down in pork sales.

Beef vs. Porkchipotle fyi

If a beef animal is raised “conventionally,” they are confined in a feedlot for roughly the last one-third of their life, fed genetically modified corn and silage, given a growth promotant (i.e. implant, hormone or steroid) and almost assuredly given an antibiotic at some point in their life. These are all management practices Chipotle abhors implying farmers engaging in these management practices are harming animals, the planet, and ultimately poisoning the consumer. Yet, as indicated by the sign to the right, Chipotle is all too happy to routinely overlook this myriad of infractions to FWI in order to sell you a beef burrito.

On the other hand, pigs or sows denied access to outdoors or deeply bedded barns while still being afforded the creaturely comforts of a warm bed, food, water, freedom from predatorial parasites and freedom from the anxiety of needing to establish their place within a pecking order, has Chipotle withdrawing pork from 594 stores.

So, how is the pork production process more egregious than the beef production process? The answer…it isn’t!

The scarecrow in Chipotle’s field is Food With Integrity, dressed up to look like something sustentative while warding off real inquiry, a form of empty ethical calories. Any objective review of FWI would reveal your justified burrito is a hoax!

A sad fact of Chipotle’s FWI is it’s spawned a herd of copycats.

Here are a just a few. 

Hyatt Regency


Noodles & Co
(Current Executive Vice President of Marketing at Noodles & Co. was former Chief Marketing Officer at Chipotle)

McDonalds (Former Owner)

Carl’s Jr


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