Chipotle Airs Anti-Factory Farm Ad During Grammy Awards. What Does This Mean for Sustainable Business?

Last night, during the 2012 Grammy Awards, Chipotle aired their great music video/commercial featuring Willie Nelson covering Coldplay, which illustrates some of the problems with factory farming. I wrote about this ad back in September when it first came out and I was impressed with both the production process (see the great "making of" video posted here) and that a major restaurant chain was making such a strong statement about our food system and what it does to animals and farmers. Because of its longer-than-average length, I knew it wouldn't likely be airing on television, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear that it aired last night and caused quite a reaction among first time viewers.

Chris Tackett/Screen capture

The tweets above are just a small sampling of the many reactions I saw right after the commercial aired. At two minutes long, it was a big ad spend for Chipotle, but I suspect the company executives are thrilled with the reaction. While the NFL's Super Bowl is known for being the premiere space for innovative and costly commercials, The Grammy Awards was a smart choice for reaching an audience that would be highly engaged, especially when they heard Willie Nelson's voice and Coldplay lyrics.

As I wrote about this ad back in September, "We will always continue to encourage people to eat less meat and learn to cook at home, but that doesn't mean we aren't happy to see a company as big as Chipotle taking steps to move away from supporting industrial meat production."

To that point, Ezra Klein at the Washington Post had a good post this week praising prepared food. We talk a lot about how important it is to cook your own food, but as Ezra argues, for many people that may never become their normal routine.

Klein writes:

"But people won’t cook it for themselves. They’re busy. They don’t like to cook. They don’t want to wait. In fact, even I won’t cook it for myself. Sure, it’s straightforward to make my own beans and freeze them. Sure, I know how much better it is when I make my own stock and use it. But in practice, I never do it. I’m happy enough reaching for a can. And I’m someone who loves to cook."

He goes on to talk about how restaurants like Chipotle and other healthier restaurants and chains will play a big role in getting people to eat better food.

What makes me agree with Ezra on this point is the impressive success Chipotle has had in recent years, after making these changes to source more ethical and sustainable food.

Writing at Slate, Matthew Yglesias highlights the impressive growth Chipotle has seen in recent years:

"Anyone who has walked a city block (or driven a suburban one) in recent years knows that Chipotles have been springing up around the country. But the numbers need to be seen to be believed. They opened 67 new stores in the fourth quarter of 2011, growing by just over 5 percent to 1,230 total outlets. They opened the first Chipotle in London, and launched their second restaurant concept, the Southeast Asian-themed ShopHouse, whose initial location has quickly become a lunchtime favorite for those of us who work in the nearby Slate D.C. office. Chipotle stock is up 50 percent on the year and over 500 percent over five years, far outperforming the market as a whole or the restaurant sector in particular. They announced last week that revenue grew 23.7 percent in 2011, with an 11 percent increase in same-store revenues. Restaurant operating margins are more than 25 percent."

I don't care what certain politicians want to say, corporations are not people. Their very nature means they don't have to care about helping society or the environment or doing what is right. Their primary objective is providing a return for investors. But what happens when a corporation finds that doing what is right can also be wildly profitable? That's what is happening with Chipotle and those of us concerned with sustainability should be thrilled.

Tags: Agriculture | Factory Farming | video

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