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How Should Ag Respond To Chipotle's Negative Campaigns?

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One reader offers a different perspective on the Chipotle’s anti-agriculture campaigns.

It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of Chipotle’s marketing campaigns. I believe in voting with my dollar, so I don’t support any companies, celebrities or organizations that are anti-animal agriculture. To me, Chipotle fits that bill because of its slanted campaigns against modern meat production. So, if I have a hankering for a burrito, I get it elsewhere.

I’ve taken Chipotle to task a number of times in this blog for the way it unfairly denigrates conventional meat production in order to sell its products. Here are a few of my past blogs on the topic:

Chipotle Changes Its Tune On Beef

Chipotle Continues To Use Fear To Sell Its Burritos

Should Ag Make Such A Fuss About Negative Media Attention?

Chipotle Gearing Up For Second Attack On Modern Agriculture

Of course, our industry is made up of individuals, and we don’t all think alike on every topic. In fact, one reader, Wayne Vanderwert, doesn’t agree with my stance on the burrito chain and took the time to write me about his thoughts. And I appreciate the feedback. In essence, he thinks my complaints against Chipotle are unwarranted because the chain is just taking advantage of a consumer-driven niche, and it’s a production opportunity that beef producers should work to fill rather than condemn. Here is his note:

Amanda,

I write in response to you and others who have written critically about Chipotle Mexican Grill’s (CMG) “Farmed and Dangerous” marketing campaign.

Almost all marketing, in some form, bashes the competition. In fact, on many occasions I’ve sat with members of your publication’s advertising salesforce who take the competitor’s readership numbers to task. In my mind there is a thin line between saying my product is better than yours or saying your product is not as good as mine.

A short time ago, you applauded the M&M jars to demonstrate estrogen activity in foods. Do you see the irony…the cabbage folks could say “Why do they have to bash our product to market beef, and just weeks ahead of St. Patrick’s Day?”

CMG’s marketing is a satire; it’s meant to poke fun and use exaggerated symbolism to make a point. Their marketing team monitors the Internet; the livestock media’s response only serves to bolster their marketing plans. A few months ago, CMG announced that they could not source enough natural beef to meet their demand, the beef industry cheered. Really, there is demand for a product that we can’t meet and we cheer and defend our own failure rather than get to work to meet that demand. What kind of business can survive with this attitude?

The fact remains that CMG is a successful company that is in-tune with consumer trends and is keeping beef, pork and poultry products in front of a young consuming public. In today’s market that amounts to swimming upstream on the behalf of the meat industry. Silly as it may seem, giving consumers what they want appears to be a business model that works.

Perhaps the biggest danger in all of this is that your message helps to solidify anti-consumer sentiment, the “by god, they’ll eat what we produce” mentality that prevails with TOO MANY beef producers. I suspect in the coming years that this will do more to economically unravel the beef industry than HSUS will ever be able to accomplish.

BEEF needs to the fountain of fresh ideas, innovation and leadership development to help this industry thrive by providing what consumers want, not a musty shelve in the library with old ideas, supper table complaining and stubborn reluctance to change that will hasten our demise.

Somebody needed to say this…

Wayne Vanderwert

 

I appreciate Vanderwert’s comments on this topic, and I think he presents a good argument for all of us to consider. Interestingly, I saw a Facebook post from someone who had listened to Temple Grandin speak earlier this week. Grandin’s response to Chipotle’s “Farmed and Dangerous” videos was that they were “funny.”

But there are a few points in Vanderwert’s response that I would like to rebut. First, I’m not a proponent of bashing one segment of agriculture to promote another. However, he does make a fine point that by comparing beef to cabbage, or beef to chicken, I’m doing exactly that. My intention wasn’t to denigrate cabbage but to put beef’s profile in better perspective by comparing it to a leafy green vegetable most folks would consider safe, wholesome and nutritious.

Similarly, I truly believe that conventionally raised beef is safe, wholesome and nutritious, and many studies back up that contention. Beef, in my opinion, is a superfood that can hold its own against other foods, and I’m proud that I have a part in raising beef.

Second, my intent wasn’t to cheer when Chipotle could no longer fill demand for natural beef in its burritos. Actually, I think it’s awesome that the demand for natural beef is growing because it represents more opportunity for beef producers! The question I was asking in reference to Chipotle’s announcement was regarding how Chipotle could in good conscience serve to its customers a product (conventionally raised beef) that it works so hard to paint as unsafe?

Again, I appreciate the feedback and Vanderwert’s willingness to let me share his email with readers. I don’t mind being taken to task for my opinions. That’s what blogs are for, after all. I love the give and take of the BEEF online community. So, what do you think? How would you respond to Chipotle’s marketing campaigns? Do you think Vanderwert presents a good argument? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Discuss this Blog Entry 18

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 12, 2014

Amanda, thank you for posting this. The past two days BEEF has posted a couple of rebuttles to their articles, and I have to say that I'm impressed by the journalistic maturity this displays.

I do agree with a number of Mr. Vanderwert's points, especially with everything I hear at beef industry gatherings about the need to get Millenials excited about beef. When it was announced that Chipotle couldn't find enough natural beef for it's restaurants, I looked at it as an economic tragedy that the industry couldn't meet the demand for a product consumers are willing to pay a premium for. I don't appreciate groups or individuals saying that the entire beef industry needs to change in certain ways, but when consumers are willing to pay extra for particular product features, it is huge economic opportunity we're letting pass us by. The “by god, they’ll eat what we produce” mentality worked when my grandfather raised cattle, but the age of that mentality working is gone, just as the age of cheap corn and cheap fuel is gone.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

I meet people every day who want to bash conventional produced beef in favor of "all natural" beef. I say OK that's fine. The industry is willing to produce this so called product, but are you willing to pay for the increased costs of production?? That's where we meet, some resistance! However, I do notice that a very high marbling "all natural" product at $57 per pound, stays in great demand!!! So beef producers are listening and trying to meet that demand....in the real world!

on Mar 13, 2014

In all my years of farming and raising cattle I have never met a single fellow producer who has a "by God they'll eat what we produce mentality," and to suggest such is absolutely assinine! Moreover, I don't know a single producer who doesn't use BQA practices or procedures that are backed by years of science. In today's economy there is a market for "natural" products, and if some producers and consumers prefer to chase that market or consume those products then so be it. The main problem I have is that it seems that some of these natural producers and their affiliated consumers take it upon themselves to bash the rest of the production agriculture community and the consumers who appreciate having food on the table. It seems the minority always wants to be in control. I believe the vast majority of the public trusts American agriculture as they should, but right now the "natural" chasers seem to think they need to tell the rest of the country what's best for them. It bears a striking resemblance to the mentality shown by our current liberal socialist government. I imagine the vast majority of people who go into Chipotle could not care less if the beef is "natural" or not. Nor could they taste the difference between conventional or natural beef. The fact of the matter is with the rate of growth of the population along with the loss of farmland to urbanization, there is no way agriculture can produce enough food without the use of modern practices, including GMOs and confinement farming. Modern science is used in every aspect of today's operations, if something flawed is found it is corrected swiftly. As in anything involving people, at times problems will be encountered and corrected,and society moves forward. I shudder to think what will happen if these liberal movements gain a foothold and force us back to archaic farming practices. The ironic thing about it all is that I scarcely doubt any of these "naturalists" have ever known what it truly means to go hungry, and I imagine they'd have a dramatic change of attitude if they did.

James McGrann (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

What this ranchers writes is right on target. Defining what consumers want should not be judged from the minority that have another agenda other then dealing with food safety and what ranchers can do to profitably produce low cost food.

Randi (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Rancher250 very well said.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

"I believe the vast majority of the public trusts American agriculture as they should, but right now the "natural" chasers seem to think they need to tell the rest of the country what's best for them."

The heart of the conflict lies in this statement. Us folks involved in conventional agriculture assume that the public is on our side, while the folks at the other end of the spectrum assume the public is on their side, and frankly their isn't enough consistent data to support either assumption. Both sides are digging in their heels, convinced the other side will eventually see things their way or go away. Realistically, the "naturalists" aren't going to just see things our way or go away, so it is in our best interest for a sufficient minority of producers to supply the product that minority wants, before they make us supply the product they want. While us folks in conventional agriculture are armed with superior science that supports our practices, the "naturalist" folks are armed with superior communication capabilities. Ultimately, communication is much more effective than science in swaying public opinion and enfluencing legislation and regulation. We must refine our communications approach instead of relying on our the fact that we're feeding the world, because, as this study shows, consumers aren't very interested in that message:

http://ocj.com/2011/09/consumers-say-u-s-farmers-not-responsible-for-fee...

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

I don't believe the statement you quoted from Rancher250 to be an assumption, as you stated, but an opinion and one I strongly agree with. Assuming anything, often ends in shooting yourself in the foot. I don't believe that farmers involved in conventional production agriculture expect the so called "naturalists" to see things their way, nor do they expect them to go away. Most if not all the farmers and ranchers I know, myself included, have no problem with the "natural" market. Moreover, I think that many producers are embracing "all natural" production practices to cater to this emerging market, most however are not out bashing traditional agricultural practices, as a select group of producers, consumers, and businesses have chose to do. I do however agree that farmers and ranchers still need to improve on their communication skills, but I also understand what a hurdle this is to producers out working 18hr days. Most just want to get out and be a producer, it's not in their nature to get involved in all the mud slinging. But, if we don't all get involved the results will likely be detrimental to our livelihoods. Finally, I don't believe that those of us involved in production agriculture are relying on the "we're feeding the world" argument as you stated, despite it being an undisputable fact! The population in the U.S. is also rapidly increasing as in the rest of the world, and there are many who go hungry in our own country everyday, not just the rest of the world. I am proud to do my family's small part of a greater whole to keep food on people's table. As for the "study" you provided the link to... what a load of CRAP!!! Most all of these surveys when investigated have been shown to be grossly biased toward the opinion in question. Moreover, the final paragraph contradicts the entire article. I'd be interested to know just how many people were actually given this survey and what the demographics of those people were. I bet if this information were released, this survey would lose any relevance it might be given.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Rancher250,
Your last sentence really has an impact if one thinks about it. Thank you for a thoughtful response.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

I personally do not go to Chipolte and don't really care what they say as long as they don't mislead (lie to) the public. Their representations of animal agriculture are untrue and insulting. I've work in animla agriculture for over 40 years and in those years I have met very few folks who musptreated their animals. And most of those are not in the business anymore.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

The Peterson boys are doing it right! Their blog about the myths and hot button issues of ag is aweome! Wish i could write that well!

Hal Hamilton, Sustainable Food Lab (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Can't we do both: produce to fill growing niches, and ask that ALL our supply chain partners desist from bashing conventional agriculture based on misinformation?

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

YES! Let's get about producing beef that consumers want to eat. There are all sorts of consumers with different priorities, tastes, and pocket books. If we are each content that our product is safe and wholesome and someone wants to buy our beef we should quit worrying about the other guy.

on Mar 13, 2014

Absolutely we can produce beef to satisfy any of a number of markets. In my opinion American agriculture has been doing so, be it by conventional methods or by following "natural" protocols. I can't recall however any instance in which a producer following conventional ideas is openly degrading another sector, in this case the all natural sector, openly to the public via the media. In recent times, conventional agriculture is on the defensive against an onslaught of negative media, the majority of which is blatant lies and fear mongering. Don't get me wrong I have numerous friends who raise their cattle all natural to capitalize on premiums for doing so, who aren't running around telling people they shouldn't buy or consume traditionally produced cattle. There are however producers, businesses, and consumers who are doing so in an attempt to either gain market share or further their liberal agendas. So pardon us producers who aren't content to cower in the corner and turn the other cheek while "the other guy" that you suggest we quit worrying about, is out telling the public that the products we have devoted our lives to produce are unhealthy and unsafe!

Laura Bro (not verified)
on Mar 13, 2014

Niche markets are BS. Chipotle's and all the rest are built on misinformation and false advertisement. It's not ok for them to tear down the rest of the agricultural industry and lie to consumers just to line their pockets.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 17, 2014

A few years ago I visited a small harvesting and wholesale company that specialized in providing animal proteins for several organic, grass-finished, and naturally-raised markets. I will admit I was a little apprehensive at first about the tour given my previous experience with others in that niche market, but I really appreciated their open dialog on their philosophy. The manager said they will not advertise that those types of meat are better than that from conventionally raised livestock, but if their customers want the product and have the money to pay for it then they are more than happy to provide it.

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 17, 2014

Aside from people denigrating 'conventionally' produced beef in order to promote sales of their own supposedly superior 'natural' or 'organic' or whatever label they choose product, another concern is that businesses like Chipotle are using the fears of consumers to force beef producers to sell them the 'natural' beef at commodity beef prices, in the name of 'safe' food.

There has long been the types of beef they say they want, and will be MORE of it IF customers are willing to pay the additional costs of raising it. After all, there is a market for beef which has been fed beer and massaged, but few consumers can afford it!

Anonymous (not verified)
on Mar 18, 2014

I am a teacher in a school that has been called inner city. Students are barely connected with farmers, and they were shocked that I was willing to "work in all that poop." During a recent set of classes and for an English paper, we discussed the Delta smelt and the destruction of 100,000+ farm land because of water that was going to the preservation of smelt or trees. I showed them newspaper articles about what happened with the water and fruit trees and how it came about in the courts. I explained to the students (seniors) that this was a controversial issue (which we were supposed to discuss), and that a judge had decided to cut off the water to the fruit trees. At first, they had little noticeable reaction. I think explained that all the trees died. I said, "The end result of those trees dying is that food prices, especially fruit prices went up." I explained that a few years ago, apples were .50 a pound, but now apples were about a $1.00 a pound. At that point, the students begin to ask questions. Why did we save the smelt instead of the trees? What value are the smelt? Can we eat them? What kinds of trees died? How many farmers were affected? What did the farmers do about jobs/income/work? What did they do with the land? We had several class discussions on what had happened and how it had affected consumers. Some students were livid about the trees and how the decision affected the economy and how it affected people who had lost jobs including the farmers, migrant workers, and all the industries connected with the trees and farming. A few students felt saving the smelt was of paramount importance, and although some students tried to put down that argument, I insisted we hear all sides and said, "No, the smelt is not edible, but it is eaten by larger fish, and maybe the smelt will be involved in research that will be of paramount importance in the future such as cancer." I asked, "Should we let the smelt go on the become extinct?" Many students were angry that the trees died, farmers suffered, people lost jobs. We concluded that there had to be a better compromise. Then they wrote a short paper. It was a very engaging week of classes, and students were highly involved. At the end of it and after they turned in their papers, I said, "Remember as you become an adult and begin voting, whatever you vote for that adversely affects farmers will cause food prices to rise. Think before you vote." I feel I made a difference in the lives of beginning voters. Wem from the farming community, need to be in the schools more. If we teach the kids the realities of farming and how important farming is to the economy and their lives, they will listen.

on May 21, 2014

I don't believe that Chipotle's video is an attack on anyone honestly do you? Or do you feel threatened that there maybe some truth in the video animation? I believe there is some truth in what they are saying. Does this apply to everyone within agriculture? No of course not! Many people are responsible and this message is not applicable to these people.

I have been an agriculture scientist for close to 20 years already. There are many practices that have been developed in all agriculture industries in general for the sake of progress, science, increasing productivity and profitability that have greatly impacted on animal welfare and all food and fiber industries and environment.

This has resulted in negative impacts on the environment, the local communities and the end consumers. I understand that we need to feed the growing masses and sometimes the things we do for the name of progress will have negative consequences.

Eco-farming is really a personal choice that everyone should have the right to choose if it is right for them or not. As a researcher I think there is better ways to produce agricultural products more naturally then we do. This becomes very difficult to achieve though when you produce on a very big scale and at the moment I believe this can only be achieved through conventional production practices.

I think in general most Ag scientist today though have learned allot from the past and are trying to develop technologies that have minimal impact on the environment. Also today there are many regulatory bodies in place to help prevent allot of the problems that negative developments have had on the environment and community in the past.

Kind Regards to all

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BEEF Daily Blog is produced by rancher Amanda Radke, one of the U.S. beef industry’s top social media “agvocates.”

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Amanda Radke

A fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell, SD, Amanda grew up on a purebred Limousin cattle operation in which she and husband Tyler are active. She graduated with a degree in agriculture journalism...

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