Next Generation Farming

Misleading Consumers about Family Farms

Restaurants like Chipotle use family farms as a marketing ploy, but play loose with the facts.

Saving the family farm is a hot issue these days with consumers yearning to reconnect with their food. They want it so badly, it’s become a terrific marketing ploy for any company in the food business.

Chipotle, the hip burrito chain with 1,084 locations, leads the charge with their marketing campaign built on the concept of reviving family farms across America. As they advertise on their Web site, “Family farms are slowly disappearing, but we’re doing our best to keep that from happening.”

They even use startling statistics to heighten the urgency of the matter. In 1930, 85% of food production came from family farms, Chipotle says. Today, only 27% comes from family farms while the remainder comes from factory farm operations.

Wow! With numbers that extraordinary, there is obviously good reason to be concerned for America’s family farmer!

Not to worry: Chipotle has the solution. All you have to do is buy a burrito and all will be right in the world.

The facts, however, are less fantastic than Chipotle makes it sound with the unattributed figures they use. According to the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture, 97% of all farms in the U.S. were family farms, with “family farm” defined as a farming operation where the primary owners were related to each other. The remaining 3% were partnerships or corporations. Even of big farms with incomes of more than $1 million, 84% were family owned. 

Family farms clearly control the majority of agricultural production in the U.S., but those statistics don’t fit well into Chipotle’s marketing campaign. So, they made up their own.

Food With a Purpose

Chipotle has figured out a marketing campaign that works. People want to feel they’ve done good for the world and have promoted justice with their purchases.

Their campaign also builds on public ignorance. Since most people who are not in agriculture are unfamiliar with how or where to check their facts when it comes to agriculture, the door is wide open for companies like Chipotle to use false or misleading information.

The combination of people’s eagerness to do good and their vast ignorance of agriculture invites companies like Chipotle to inflate the “purpose” of their product with fanciful statistics. They’re banking on consumers to respond not with fact checking or intelligent discussion, but with a false sense of urgency – and to enthusiastically pay more for a burrito.

With the false information Chipotle is spreading about farmers for the purpose of enflaming consumers’ imaginations, it makes you wonder if anything is true about their marketing campaign.

Unfortunately, in the age of purpose-driven consumerism where few people have knowledge of where their food comes from, we can expect companies like Chipotle to try more of the same. There’s just too much money to be made in exploiting ignorance.

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