During last night's Grammy award show, the biggest news occured during a commercial break.
Fast-casual burrito concept Chipotle debuted its first national television spot, which included a soundtrack by rock superstars Coldplay and country music legend Willie Nelson.
In the two-minute short film, Nelson performs Coldplay's song "The Scientist" as the soundtrack for a story about a pig farmer who grows his business by caging his animals and feeding them antibiotics. While the business grows, the farmer and his animals are unhappy. As Nelson dramatically sings the song's lyric, "I'm going back to the start," the farmer decides to undo all the big-business farming practices he's put in place.
Chipotle only uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meats in its more than 1,200 locations across the U.S., and the new advertisement hopes to further those efforts.
At the close of the ad, entitled "Back to the Start," viewers were invited to download the song on iTunes. Proceeds go to the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation, which is, "dedicated to creating a sustainable, healthful, and equitable food future."
Steve Ells, the chain's founder, has long been a supporter of hormone- and antibiotic-free foods and is the brainchild behind the company's slogan, "Food with Integrity."
During a December briefing on Capitol Hill, Ells joined several of his suppliers and Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to encourage a reduction in the number of antibiotics used in foods.
“It’s going to take restaurants like Chipotle creating more of a demand," Ells told QSR. "But also it’s going to take more work here to call for change in legislation” to end the overuse of antibiotics in the American food supply.
In a 2011 study released by Applegate Farms, which supplies minimally processed natural and organic meat to retailers, 75 percent of Americans want the government to restrict the use of antibiotics at animal farms, and 71 percent believe that antibiotic overuse and misuse is causing antibiotic resistance and a human health crisis.
“Consumers come for taste then value then convenience when they eat at Chipotle,” Ells said. “When we began offering this type of food no one was asking for it. That’s slowly changing, but I don’t know when the tipping point will be when people value that more than taste or convenience.”
Although many brands, especially those with larger systems and global supply chains, often cite higher food costs as a barrier to entry into the movement, Ells said he has made his unit-economics work because of his highly efficient service line.
“Traditional fast food is not interesting to customers anymore,” Ells said.
With $1.8 billion in sales, Chipotle ranks No. 18 in the QSR 50, an annual ranking of the top quick-serve and fast-casual brands in the U.S. compiled by QSR magazine.
By Blair Chancey