A month or so ago I stopped at Chipotle for lunch. While ordering, I noticed the menu said “Burrito, with naturally raised chicken“. I asked the gentlemen cashier what that meant. He said it means raising chickens naturally, not in cages, and “without hormones”. I asked about that “without hormones” comment and he said yes, the chickens are raised without hormones. He then asked if I had seen “Food, Inc.” and mentioned how, in the movie, chickens are raised by large poultry companies (implying, I think, that ‘They’ raise their chickens with hormones.).
I thanked him for the info. I also mentioned that poultry, all poultry, is raised without hormones. To help, I used my phone to show him the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services’ meat and poultry labeling terms page, which has a paragraph labeled “No Hormones”. The cashier seemed a bit surprised. Then he said “but people still do raise chickens with hormones”. I stated that would be illegal.
After I finished lunch, the cashier came by to share with me the Chipotle Food With Integrity In English information sheet the restaurant provides to help answer the customer question on “What does ‘naturally raised’ mean?” This info sheet does not mention hormones, but states “To meet our naturally raised standard, chicken must: Never be given antibiotics, Have more room to move about than in conventional chicken operations, and, Be vegetarian fed, never given animal by-products.”
The cashier was very nice and helpful, genuinely interested in what I was asking, and willing to learn more about the topic. Chipotle does go the extra mile in terms of hiring staff that is willing to have a conversation with customers about their products. They also are willing to learn more from customers.
What can be learned here? Marketing can be a bit fuzzy. Yes, Chipotle has a clear label on the the term “naturally raised chicken” and they provide information sheets to their staff to support the message. But employees are human too and can be influenced by additional messages coming from outside their work (like from Food, Inc.). This means the employees can fuse messages with what they believe is true (like other chickens are raised with hormones) with well thought out and correct marketing messages. Many people are not reading USDA info sites, instead, receiving food information from menus, displays, and popular media. These views are then shared with friends and in casual conversations with customers and fellow employees.
People must be willing to ask questions of facts and take action to learn more when the opportunity arrises. And, when discovered, people must help clarify statements they know are not factual or presented in fashion that is misleading.
John Blue, IN Agri-media
John Blue, as Chief of Community Creation for Truffle Media Networks, works to engage agricultural focused audiences on issues of importance and concern to those interested in food, fuel, and fiber.