What do you do when your brand message teeters fictional? Put Your Money Where Your Pork Is – which is exactly what Chipotle did last month when they discovered one of their pork suppliers failed to meet their highly branded loyalty to animal welfare.
It’s easy to say you “serve only the best”, but how willing are you actually to walk the talk? Chipotle devotes pages of their website to FWI – Food With Integrity. (BOLD, to say the least!) Their written devotion to FWI is so in depth, in fact, one could characterize their marketing mantra as bordering on the obsessive.
When you repeatedly advertise a commitment to finding the very best ingredients raised with respect for the animals, the environment, and farmers, you better be willing to back it up. Chipotle could have easily dealt with the supply chain fail on the QT but opted instead to address it publically – a definite walk the talk move on their part.
When a national chain opts for transparency over liquidity, it’s big (and refreshing) news. Chipotle pulled their pork carnitas from hundreds of their restaurants and posted a sign reading: Sorry, no carnitas. Due to supply constraints, we are currently unable to serve our responsibly raised pork. Trust us, we’re just as disappointed as you, and as soon as we get it back we’ll let the world know. Customer loyalty and positive press prevailed pursuant.
Another point in Chipotle’s favor was the fact they refused to name the supplier who failed to meet their standards. In lieu of finger pointing, they chose to help bring the supplier’s “operations into compliance.” It was a class move by corporate standards, but not one void of potential other subsequent fallouts.
Whenever your customer takes a public eye hit, a trickle down chain reaction can occur. Such was the case for Niman Ranch, one of the most respected brands in the business and also Chipotle’s largest pork supplier. Was Niman negligent? Certainly not, but those, not in the know would certainly wonder.
Niman prudently followed Chipolte’s lead and spoke publically about it. What ensued was a highly publicized trail of what Niman was doing to help Chipotle get back up to speed in a real time demonstration of what a solid working relationship between merchant and supplier should look like.
The crux of this public relations issue is deeply attached to what makes meat natural – how animals are raised with respect to their environments if they’re free of growth hormones, antibiotics, etc. When you are committed to honoring sustainable practices, expediency is a non-issue – it takes more time to produce things naturally.
Unlike cows that bear one calf at a time over a 9 + month gestation period, it only takes 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days for a litter of pigs to be born. 114 days may not seem like a long time, but add to that the amount of time it takes to reach harvest maturity, and it becomes vividly clear how a supply chain gap can quickly sever fluid output.
Moral of the Story
Chipotle’s challenge was twofold: 1) tarnish brand perception by operating outside of message and 2) risk the loss of an ingratiated mass appeal. Offending Millennials, now the biggest consumer population in the U.S., who rank honesty as a top priority, and Chipotle almost just as high, wasn’t worth the risk. Anything but a celeritous and straightforward move could prove fatal for years to come.
The moral of this story is transparency trumps short term gain.