With all the hubbub surrounding a new marketing campaign by Chipotle restaurants, Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst opines in the latest American Farm Bureau Focus on Agriculture column that Chipotle may be missing the point – just how different is their business model from that of today's farms?
Here's his take:
Chipotle, At It Again
by Blake Hurst
Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle is at it again, posting a new Web ad contrasting the dangers of industrial farming with the moral beacon that is Chipotle. It showcases beautiful video, haunting music, a barren landscape scarred by industrial farming and a scarecrow as the hero.
New Chipotle marketing campaign has ag interests weighing in on the meaning of 'industrial food'
In many ways family farms in the Midwest are the industrial farms that serve as the evil foil in Chipotle's marketing campaign. Many of today's misguided food writers would no doubt agree. Here's how one recently described a farm that is large but "not necessarily" evil: "Unlike many Midwestern farm operations, which grow corn and soy exclusively, here are diversity, crop rotation, cover crops and, for the most part, real food—not crops destined for junk food, animal feed or biofuel. That's a good start."
Most farms in the Midwest hit every checkpoint on the way to evil according to that definition. Corn, soybeans, genetically modified seed, pesticides, commercial fertilizer, cows and pigs eating what they produce…and some of their corn likely goes to an alcohol plant! They're so industrial that they are beyond redemption.
On the other hand, most are family farms, using no hired labor. The largest Midwestern farm is about 1,000 times smaller than Chipotle. If size matters, and all Chipotle videos make it clear that it must, Midwestern farms are small businesses.
In the latest video, the evil industrial food firm is called Crow Foods, Incorporated. It's not clear what constitutes a large enough company to achieve "crow" status, but surely Chipotle's corporate sales of $3 billion come close. Even the largest of Midwestern farms will have gross annual sales comparable to only one of Chipotle's 1,430 locations. And any of those farms would be pretty darned happy to equal Chipotle's operating margins of 30 percent.