When you promise “food with integrity” you probably should make sure your own house is in order. Chipotle Mexican Grill, it seems, is the proverbial glass house-resident throwing stones.
We’ve called out Chipotle for years due to its constant disparagement of livestock producers. Its advertising campaigns rely on misleading consumers about how cattle and hogs are raised, sowing seeds of fear that traditional beef and pork is tainted with toxic levels of antibiotics and hormones. Chipotle, however, sells “food with integrity,” where the burritos are made with ingredients from happy cows and pigs.
Even the black-eye Chipotle sustained in the fall of 2015, when dozens of people were sickened with E. coli forcing the temporary closure of nearly 50 stores, didn’t deter the restaurant chain from its fast-casual relationship with the truth. As Chipotle stock plummeted that year, “food with integrity” remained the company’s marketing theme.
Chipotle was not the first food company to suffer financially from E. coli, nor will it be the last. But when you tout “integrity” as a core company value, yet you must employ a team of lawyers to rescue your company’s virtue, you might want to reevaluate those values.
Two recent examples of Chipotle’s true colors played out in courtrooms on opposite coasts this week.
In the Northern District of California, Chipotle agreed to settle a consumer lawsuit for $6.5 million that the company allegedly used misleading non-GMO marketing tactics. Consumers alleged in 2015 and 2016 that Chipotle used in-store signs that its products were non-GMO, which was deceptive because the meat and poultry came from animals raised on GMO feed, and dairy products were made from milk from such animals.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office filed a lawsuit claiming Chipotle violated "nearly every aspect" of NYC's Fair Workweek Law.
The allegations in the suit specify that Chipotle failed to give workers proper advance and written notice of their schedules. The suit also alleges that Chipotle did not receive written consent from workers or pay compensation for last-minute changes in workers' schedules or for scheduling them for "clopenings," AKA closing the shop up and then opening up again the next morning. More than 30 workers from five different Brooklyn Chipotle locations filed complaints.
NYC's Department of Consumer and Worker Protection is investigating 11 Chipotle locations in Manhattan, and the lawsuit seeks "at least" $1 million in restitution for workers as well as addition penalties.
Unfortunately, this week’s events are likely only an annoyance to Chipotle. With 2,491 stores, the company’s 2018 revenue was $4.9 billion, growth of about 8.7% over 2017. Glowing revenue numbers and continued growth suggests “food with integrity” will remain the central marketing theme, regardless of the number of rocks thrown through Chipotle’s glass house.