They still suck: After years of bashing agriculture and GMOs, Chipotle reverses course

I started bashing Chipotle about 2006, when driving through Kansas City with a trailer full of stuff as I moved to Manhattan, Kansas, to follow a girl, and cited this billboard.

Any company focused on this stuff usually meant they were somewhat oblivios to basic food safety.

Unfortunately for all the thousands of sick people over the next 14 years, I was right.

I tried to call them out for the food safety amateurs they were.

Even worse, when Amy was pregnant with Sorenne, she would get Chipotle cravings and I would dutifully comply, because she was doing the heavy lifting in pregnancy.

Now I have an entire book chapter I’m working on, devoted to Chipotle.

Kevin Folta of the Genetic Literacy Project writes that after years of attacking conventional agriculture and crop biotechnology, Chipotle now seems to have found a love for the American farmer that is as warm and inviting as the gooey core of a steak burrito. With the launch of its “Cultivate the Future of Farming” campaign, the company seeks to raise awareness about the hardships facing American agriculture and offer some recommendations and seed grants to address the problems. According to the campaign website:

It’s time to take real steps to give the next generation of farmers a bright future. Through our purpose to Cultivate a Better World, we’re putting programs in place that make a real impact, including seed grants, education and scholarships, and 3-year contracts. Our vision is bold, but we’re starting with a mission to cultivate the future of farming by focusing on pork, beef, and dairy.

It is good to see a company raising awareness about these issues. But given Chipotle’s past cozy relationship with organic food marketers, this seems more like a marketing stunt to woo consumers who are growing increasingly concerned about the status of American farms, and less like a genuine example of philanthropy.

Chipotle is absolutely correct about one thing. The crisis in agriculture is real. Farmers are facing low prices for their products, astronomical costs, and strangling regulation.  Farms, from commodity crops to dairies, are going out of business daily. Farmer suicides are a barometer of how severe the problem is.

From Chipotle’s website- The “challenge is real” and “It’s a hard living.”

However, Chipotle’s new ag-vertisment seems too little, too late. The threats to farmers and the public’s negative perception of agriculture didn’t seem to bother the company just a few years ago. For example, it’s 2014 video Farmed and Dangerous was an assault on large-scale animal agriculture, the industry that produces the ingredients that go into Chipotle’s burritos. Farmed and Dangerous was not the restaurant chain’s first effort, either.  The video short The Scarecrow falsely depicted a sad, dystopian world of dairy production in which forlorn cows are locked in stacked metal boxes as milk is extracted by an extensive network of plumbing.

And of course, Chipotle’s penetrating campaign against genetic engineering (GE) sought to capitalize on the momentum of several failed GMO labeling efforts, which were designed to demonize crop biotechnology by suggesting to consumers that GE seeds were dangerous—an allegation known to be false.

Let’s get real. Chipotle’s decisions to criticize agriculture and then embrace it were not born of altruism.  Public-facing corporate positions are spawned from focus groups and surveys. As a multinational, billion-dollar food empire, Chipotle is no different. The company’s ad campaigns aim to reinforce consumers’ perceptions and identity, showing that Big Burrito shares their values. That is what we see in this latest pro-farm campaign. The public is becoming increasingly aware of the fragile state of US agriculture and the crisis that has hit rural North America hard, and Chipotle is responding.

So is “Cultivate the Future of Farming” just an ag-washing ornament to exploit farmer hardship, or is this a genuine change of heart?

If it is indeed the latter, it needs to start with an apology—an honest one. Chipotle needs to publicly reject its anti-science positions and profound misrepresentation of agriculture. In the six years since the fast food chain’s anti-farming efforts hit a feverish pace, public perception has changed. The fear-based misinformation campaigns are failing, and time has not treated such efforts well. Chipotle’s videos are a shameful reminder of the rhetoric that was so prevalent just a short time ago.

Imagine where we’d be today if in 2014 Chipotle and other brands  invested heavily in research, rural mental health, or resources to bring precision agriculture to farmers. I think the perception of Chipotle and the perception of crop and animal production would be very different.

Perhaps the most important takeaway is that you shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds in the first place. Targeting farmers who produce the products you sell is bad business—and it threatens a critical industry we all depend on.

‘Better think about the consequence of (temperature abuse) actions’ Over 700 sick from C. perfringens at one Chipotle

Chipotle’s head of food safety, Jim Marsden, has been conspicuously silent after at least 647 patrons at a single Chipotle restaurant in Powell (no relation), Ohio, were sickened with Clostridium perfringens.

As one of my colleagues said, Preventing C. perfringens is kind of like food safety 101. They must’ve had a massive temperature abuse situation.

In response, CEO Brian Niccol said Chipotle will start retraining all restaurant employees on food safety and wellness protocols next week.

Uh-huh.

#MeToo

It’s free guacamole day and Chipotle investigated as source of another outbreak

Chipotle appears to be linked to another outbreak of foodborne illness. Maybe it’s just two cases (according to Chipotle via CNBC reporting) or maybe it’s way more according to Patrick Quade over at iwaspoisoned.com. 

There are lots of things that can go wrong in the restaurant like poor handwashing, cross-contamination or improper temperature control. Or folks showing up to work while ill (and Chipotle’s seen this before).

The pathogen isn’t clear, nor is what dish/practice caused the illnesses. It’s too early to tell.

What we do know is that the local health department is investigating:

Intel, Chipotle and Facebook: The sorry history of full-page apologies

In the summer of 1994, Intel types discovered a flaw with their Pentium computer chip, but thought the matter trivial; it was not publicly disclosed until Oct. 30, 1994, when a mathematician at Lynchburg College in Virginia, Thomas Nicely, posted a warning on the Internet.

As perceived problems and complaints rose through the weekend Andrew S. Grove, Intel’s chairman and CEO, composed an apology to be posted on an Internet bulletin board—actually a web, but because he was at home with no direct Internet access, he asked Intel scientist Richard Wirt to post the message from his home account; But because it bore Mr. Wirt’s electronic address, the note’s authenticity was challenged, which only added to the fury of the Internet attacks on Intel.

(I remember those days, and did live-post to my friends that had e-mail my 4th daughter’s 1995 home birth on a shitty Mac SE with a 20MB external hard drive for extra power.)

At 8 a.m. the following Monday inside the company’s Santa Clara, Calif. headquarters, Intel officials set to work on the crisis the way they attacked a large problems—like an engineering problem. Said Paul Otellini, senior vice-president for worldwide sales, “It was a classic Intellian approach to solving any big problem. We broke it down into smaller parts; that was comforting.”

By the end of week two, the crisis looked to be subsiding; Then on Monday, Nov. 12, 1994, the International Business Machines Corp. abruptly announced that its own researchers had determined that the Pentium flaw would lead to division errors much more frequently than Intel said. IBM said it was suspending shipments of personal computers containing the Pentium chip

Mr. Grove was stunned. The head of IBM’s PC division, Richard Thoman, had given no advance warning. A fax (remember those? Still required for certain transactions in Australia) from Thoman arrived at Intel’s HQ on Monday morning after the IBM announcement, saying he had been unable to find Grove’s number during the weekend. Mr. Grove, whose number is listed, called directory assistance twice to ask for his own number to ensure he was listed.

After the IBM announcement, the number of calls to Santa Clara overwhelmed the capacity of AT&T’s West Coast long-distance telephone switching centers, blocking calls. Intel stock fell 6.5 per cent.

As John Markoff of the N.Y. Times wrote on the front-page in Dec. 1994, the reluctance of Intel to act earlier, according to Wall Street analysts, was the result of a corporate culture accustomed to handling technical issues rather than addressing customers’ hopes and fears.

Only then, Mr. Grove said, did he begin to realize that an engineer’s approach was inappropriate for a consumer problem.

According to one op-ed writer, Intel’s initial approach to the problem—prove you are doing sophisticated calculations if you want a replacement chip—was like saying “until you get to be cardinal, any internal doubts about the meaning of life are your own problem, a debate that has been going on since before Martin Luther.”

Intel’s doctrine of infallibility was facing an old-fashioned Protestant revolt.” (John Hockenberry, Pentium and our Crisis of Faith, N.Y. Times, Dec. 28, 1994, A11; this is how things were referenced before hot links)

Why and how did Intel go wrong? The answer was rooted in Intel’s distinctive corporate culture, and suggests that Intel went wrong in much the same way as other big and unresponsive companies before it.

Intel had traditionally valued engineering over product marketing. Inward-looking and wary of competitors (from experience with the Japanese) it developed a bunker mentality, a go-for-the-juglar attitude and reputation for arrogance.

According to one former engineer, Federico Faggin, a co-inventor of Intel’s first microprocessor, “The attitude at Intel is, ‘We’re better than everyone else and what we do is right and we never make mistakes.’”

Finally, on Dec. 20, Grove apparently realized that he and his company were standing at Ground Zero for an incoming consumer relations meteor. Intel announced that it would replace the defective chips—and pay for the labor—no questions asked, for the life of the original PC.

Discussing Intel’s previous position, Grove said, “To some people, this seemed arrogant and uncaring. We apologize for that.”

So what did a consumer with a Pentium do: Teach Intel that this isn’t about a white paper. It’s about green paper—the money you paid and the performance you didn’t get. Replace that chip. After all, consumers deserve to be treated with respect, courtesy and a little common sense.

Now apply all of that Intel stuff to Chipotle.

They even took out a full-page ad to apologize, just like Intel, but people still read newspapers 20 years ago. Today, the strategy seems hopelessly out of touch for a tragically hipster company.

Chipotle is the opposite, focusing too much on consumer whims and not enough on food science, and now it’s going to get worse.

An official chronology of the Simi Valley Norovirus outbreak involving Chipotle Mexican Grill customers and employees, which has been obtained by Food Safety News, shows there were far more victims than were reported at the time.

The report shows the Simi Valley outbreak was larger than any of the other four outbreaks Chipotle has suffered since July, including the ongoing Norovirus outbreak mostly involving Boston College students, the two E. coli outbreaks and the Salmonella Newport outbreak in Minnesota in August. Together these events have sickened more than 490 people.

The County’s chronology includes detailed tracking of the complaints as they came in and as the illnesses were confirmed as Norovirus victims. From that first report through Sept. 25, 2015, the chronology comes to this conclusion: ”The total number of reportedly ill customers and employees at this Chipotle outbreak investigation is 234.”

The number of victims was being reported in other media at the time as just 98.

And, the internal document says the real number of victims of Chipotle’s Simi Valley outbreak could be higher still. “In reviewing the food logs provided by Chipotle for both 8/18/15 and 8/19/15, it is estimated at least 1500+ entrees were sold each day.”  Sandy Murray, who did the analysis for the division, wrote: “Thus, the actual number of customers and employees ill from this outbreak is likely to be substantially higher than the reported number of 234.”

In 2015, Chipotle ran print advertisements in 60 newspaper markets with an apology from Steve Ells, the burrito chain’s founder and co-chief executive.   His apology though only went to the victims of the current nine state E. coli 026 outbreak and the Boston College outbreak.

“From the beginning, all of our food safety programs have met or exceeded industry standards,“ Ells said (Pinto defense). “But recent incidents, an E. coli outbreak that sickened 52 people and a Norovirus outbreak that sickened approximately 140 people at a single Chipotle restaurant in Boston, have shown us that we need to do better, much better.”

No mention was made of the other foodborne outbreaks.

Now it’s Facebook’s turn: The full-page apology adverts in newspapers in the U.S., UK and Germany ran on Sunday (Mar. 25, 2018).

But, the polls say consumers are turning away from facebook, not by immediately terminating their accounts, but by slowly disengaging.

Fewer than half of Americans trust Facebook to obey U.S. privacy laws, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Sunday, while a survey published by Bild am Sonntag, Germany’s largest-selling Sunday paper, found 60 percent of Germans fear that Facebook and other social networks are having a negative impact on democracy.

Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg apologized for “a breach of trust” in advertisements placed in papers including the Observer in Britain and the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

“We have a responsibility to protect your information. If we can’t, we don’t deserve it,” said the advertisement, which appeared in plain text on a white background with a tiny Facebook logo.

The newspapers are happy for the revenue, but if only Facebook had a way to reach out to its 2 billion or so customers rather than newspapers.

Australian rockmelon growers could learn a thing or two. I can’t keep giving out this free advice forever, but the public citizen in me and my values compel me to do so.

Rebels without a clue.

Hucksterism fail: Ells out as CEO at Chipotle

Joe Rubino of The Denver Post writes the man who turned a tiny burrito shop near the University of Denver into an international brand will soon be out as Chipotle Mexican Grill’s CEO.

Steve Ells, the founder of the Denver-based fast-casual chain, will leave his post as chairman and CEO to become executive chairman after a replacement has been found, the company announced Wednesday.

A committee that includes Ells and directors Ali Namvar and Robin Hickenlooper, wife of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, has been formed to find a leader with demonstrated turnaround expertise, the company said.

Whoever takes the job will be tasked with helping the chain climb out of protracted market malaise caused, in part, by outbreaks of foodborne illness linked to some of its restaurants, first in 2015, then again earlier this year

Co-CEO Monty Moran stepped down in December, leaving Ells with control of the company as it faced pressures from activist investor Bill Ackman, whose Pershing Square Capital hedge fund took a nearly 10 percent stake in September 2016. Ackman said then that he wanted improvement in Chipotle’s “operations, cost structure, management and strategy.”

Power of media, Broadway actor claims he was ill after dining at Chipotle

Kate Taylor of Business Insider writes:

Chipotle’s shares dropped after a Broadway star blamed the burrito chain for a recent illness.
“I, as you can see, am in the hospital and I have fluids in my arm because the food did not agree with me and I almost died,” People reported that Jeremy Jordan, a Broadway actor and star of “Supergirl,” said in an Instagram story on Thursday.
The story of Jordan’s illness picked up media coverage over the weekend.
On Monday, Chipotle’s stock fell up to 5.9% — the lowest level in almost five years, according to Bloomberg.
Chipotle denied any link between Jordan’s illness and the chain.
“We were sorry to hear Jeremy was sick and were able to get in touch with him directly regarding where and when he ate,” spokesman Chris Arnold said in an email to Business Insider. “There have been no other reported claims of illness at the restaurant where he dined. We take all claims seriously, but we can’t confirm any link to Chipotle given the details he shared with us.”
The reaction shows just how susceptible Chipotle is to concerns about food safety.
In 2016, the company’s stock dropped 3.5% after a single report on Twitter said that someone had gotten sick after eating at a Manhattan Chipotle.
Chipotle is still struggling to build sales following an E. coli outbreak in late 2015 that sickened more than 50 people in 14 states.
In October, Chipotle’s shares fell nearly 12% after missing expectations for its most recent quarter. The company’s revenue reached $1.13 billion in the quarter, falling short of the $1.14 billion estimate.

Chipotle sounds like a John Prine song: Throw front-liners under the bus: Chipotle CEO blames staff for noro outbreak that sickened at least 135

Business Insider reports that last week, news broke that Chipotle had closed a restaurant in Sterling, Virginia, following multiple reports of customers getting sick after eating there. Chipotle’s stock plummeted and more than 130 people claimed they had become ill after eating at the restaurant.

Now, CEO and founder Steve Ells needs to convince customers and investors that the chain has a plan to prevent another food poisoning scandal.

“We have isolated the failure that occurred,” Ells said in a call with investors on Tuesday.

According to Ells, the Sterling, Virginia restaurant had failed to comply with Chipotle’s safety regulations, specifically allowing an employee to work while sick.

“We made it clear to the entire company that we have a zero-tolerance policy” for not following food-safety measures, Ells said. “When followed, they work perfectly.

That’s bullshit.

When biology and humans are involved, nothing is perfect.

Seriously, this dude who runs thousands of restaurants hasn’t looked at the fail-safe measures used by engineering firms for decades?

Another nosestretcher: Ells told reporters on a conference call Tuesday, “We are the only major restaurant to have HACCP.”

That would be news to McDonalds, Disney, and dozens of others.

In describing the norovirus outbreak this past week, Ells placed the blame squarely on the individual restaurant, saying “norovirus is unrelated to our food supply chain.”

How do you know?

Coke-head Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer at Chipotle, said: “We conducted a thorough investigation and it appears that someone in the restaurant leadership did not adhere to our food safety protocol. We believe someone worked while sick.

The lack of compliance at the Sterling restaurant doesn’t seem to be an isolated incident. According to some Chipotle employees at other locations, store managers have encouraged workers to not to follow certain regulations, forcing them to work while sick and lie when filling out food safety sheets.

To prevent another food poisoning outbreak, Ells said that the chain needs to create a “culture of compliance.”

In light of the Sterling outbreak, Chipotle has made it clear that there will be “severe” consequences when in-store employees do not follow safety procedures. The company is launching additional training and communications efforts to ensure that each location follows national policies, such as sending sick workers home.

“Compliance with our procedures is nonnegotiable,” Ells said.

That’s all nice, and probably because Chipotle Mexican Grill received a follow-up subpoena on July 19, requesting information:

* Chipotle Mexican Grill says follow-up subpoena sought information related to illness incidents associated with a single Chipotle restaurant in Sterling, Virginia

* Chipotle Mexican Grill says it intends to continue to fully cooperate in the investigation

* Chipotle – sales trends in H2 of July 2017 have been adversely impacted by news regarding norovirus incident in co’s restaurant in Sterling, Virginia‍.

But it was just an accident.

Chipotle is getting sued again

Another shareholder who didn’t believe the press releases. According to NOLA.com, 

Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. is facing another class-action lawsuit by a disgruntled shareholder over its alleged inability to keep its restaurants clean, a new hurdle for a company still trying to regain consumer and investor confidence after a food scare two years ago. The latest complaint follows Tuesday’s revelation (July 18) that one of the burrito chain’s Virginia stores had temporarily closed because of a suspected norovirus outbreak, and Wednesday’s news media reports about Texas customers complaining of rodents dropping from the ceiling.

In March, Chipotle won dismissal of a similar lawsuit brought by investors over stock price drops after several food-borne illness outbreaks in 2015 were traced to its restaurants. A judge concluded that the case was “long on text but it is short on adequately-pleaded claims.” Those plaintiffs are now trying to revive the case in Manhattan federal court.

In the case filed Thursday, shareholder Elizabeth Kelley said the Colorado-based company made misleading statements to bolster confidence that it had resolved the health and safety troubles from 2015, when it was forced to close all of its U.S. stores after hundreds of consumers got sick. Chipotle spokesman Chris Arnold didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

 

I can’t make this shit up: Chipotle taps Wu-Tang Clan for marketing buzz

I can’t make this shit up: here’s a company with billions invested in it, and Chipotle decides to reach out to the Wu-Tang Clan.

A company that sucks bonding with a band that sucks and hoping that two negatives make a positive?

In April, 2017, Chipotle tapped hey-now Hank Kinsley and some other actors for some spots about how real Chipotle’s food was.

Guess that hasn’t gone so well.

Now, the aptly-named Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer and convicted cokehead, told Bloomberg that Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., has enlisted rapper RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan to unveil a new website that spotlights Chipotle’s ingredients. The company’s so-called clean menu — free of artificial preservatives and other additives — was a major selling point before a 2015 food-safety crisis sickened hundreds of customers and sent its shares plummeting.

Yup, real hardcore reaching out to the Wu-Tang Clan.

RZA, whose real name is Robert Diggs, helped design Chipotle’s new Savor.Wavs site. The rapper created 51 snippets of music, one for each ingredient on the menu, that lets people hear a audio interpretation of their typical Chipotle order. The new site doesn’t let customers order food, but it’s meant to drive home the simplicity of the chain’s menu.

“That might be lost on some, but people who are into the music will appreciate it,” said Crumpacker.

Crumpacker touted Chipotle’s simple menu at a party in Manhattan on Tuesday that featured a performance by RZA. He noted that fast-food hamburgers can have as many as 47 ingredients.

While the company declined to say how much it spent on the RZA campaign, Chipotle indicated it was less than the $5 million that a Super Bowl ad would have cost.

Chipotle’s stock, which hit a closing high of $757.77 in August 2015, has been battered by the food-safety concerns. The shares had been up for the year until Tuesday, when reports surfaced that customers had been sickened after eating a restaurant in Virginia. That location, which was closed on Monday, was slated to be reopened on Wednesday.

The stock is now trading around $368, about half its peak.

No risk messages are risky: Chipotle still doesn’t get it

I played hockey today, had an early evening nap – my partner is a saint – and then stayed up late so I could be on news radio in San Francisco at 6:20 a.m. their time — KCBS All News 740 and FM 106.9 — trashing Chipotle.

I said I wrote a book 20 years ago – Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk – that concluded no risk messages were really risky.

Yet here’s Chipotle, with their chief-science thingy, saying “Norovirus does not come from our food supply.”

As Chapman noted yesterday, there is on average one outbreak of food-related norovirus every day for all 365 days of the year in the U.S.

And rather than provide supporting statements for their claim, Chipotle took to Twitter to proclaim such insights as, “Why be full of potential when you could be full of burritos?” and “Summertime sadness is when you forget your guac.”

Al Gore had only just invented the Internet for everyone else when Mad Cows and Mother’s Milk was written.

Today, consumers demand data-based assurances, not platitudes.

I miss Phil Hartman (also born in Brantford, Ontario, Canada).

This scene from News Radio reminds me of when Chapman visited Kansas and shit for a couple of days because he had Campylobacter.