All errors should be reported to

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Chipotle coverage shows Forbes is a tool

Forbes magazine calls itself "A Capitalist's Tool." It's a tool all right. Consider its coverage of the Chipotle chain of restaurants that serve food I don't like.

Earlier this year, Forbes listed Chipotle as No. 24 in its list of "The World's Most Innovative Companies," noting:
Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. develops and operates fast-casual, fresh Mexican food restaurants throughout the U.S., which serve a focused menu of burritos, tacos, burrito bowls and salads. The company also has restaurants in Canada, England, France and Germany. The company was founded by Steve Ells in 1993 and is headquartered in Denver, CO.
Last year, Forbes writer Scott Davis gushed:
First, Chipotle has a firm grasp on one of our most important brand makers: Millennials. Millennials believe in what Chipotle stands for: Community... Second, the expansion comes at a time when the company is bolstering its “Cultivate Festival” series, its 3-year-old branded (and free) series of outdoor festivals that draw between 25,000 and 40,000 people and build an ongoing and expanding community – the currency of great brand-builders today... Third, Chipotle recently kicked off its “Cultivating Thought” program, another example of how it appeals to the integrity of its customer base. Bestselling author Jonathan Safran Foer was eating at a Chipotle when it occurred to him, he wished there was something interesting to read on his paper cup. While Chipotle has always used its bags and cup differently than competitors, it loved the idea of this new “Cultivating Thought” concept and tapped notable writers such as Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell and comic Sarah Silverman for thought-provoking, two-minute reads accompanied by illustrations from arrange of talented artists. This program has gotten significant attention and again, significant earned media.
Forbes really loves it some Chipotle. And in July Forbes reported:
One of the major factors for Chipotle’s success in the recent past is its unique food culture and the use of organic food ingredients, to cater to the current hygiene concerns of the customers. With its innovative and delicious food items, Chipotle’s “food with integrity” campaign has been its primary driver for attracting more customers. The company has always made their decisions keeping the customers’ preference in mind, and has never compromised on the quality of the food products. During the second quarter, the company completed its transition to the use of only non-GMO (genetically modified organisms) ingredients for the production of all the food items. This transition has received positive response from a majority of the customers.
But now that e-coli outbreaks at Chipotle outlets is in the news, Forbes is no longer enthralled. Writer Henry I. Miller dumped on the chain:
Chipotle: The Long Defeat Of Doing Nothing Well
The title of this article, which was inspired by a line from poet John Masefield, seems apt: Chipotle, the once-popular Mexican restaurant chain, is experiencing a well-deserved downward spiral.
The company found it could pass off a fast-food menu stacked with high-calorie, sodium-rich options as higher quality and more nutritious because the meals were made with locally grown, genetic engineering-free ingredients. And to set the tone for the kind of New Age-y image the company wanted, Chipotle adopted slogans like, “We source from farms rather than factories” and, “With every burrito we roll or bowl we fill, we’re working to cultivate a better world.”
But what about all that jazz about community and catering to hygiene concerns and food with integrity that Forbes blindly took as gospel? Instead of spending money getting Toni Morrison to read, how about investing in soap and water for the employees?

I do give Miller credit for pointing out something the rest of the staff at Forbes should have thought about before the e-coli outbreak:
“We may be at a higher risk for food-borne illness outbreaks than some competitors,” the company admits in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, “due to our use of fresh produce and meats rather than frozen, and our reliance on employees cooking with traditional methods rather than automation.” (Think about that: Would you agree to open-heart surgery if the anesthesiologist planned to use “traditional methods” instead of state-of-the-art technology?)
One wonders whether Chipotle’s “traditional methods” include employees’ neglecting to wash their hands before preparing food, which is how norovirus is usually spread. And the fresh versus frozen dichotomy is nothing more than a snow-job. Freezing E. coli-contaminated food does not kill the pathogens; it preserves them. (During my laboratory research days, we stored viruses and bacteria in ultra-low-temperature freezers.)
OK class, what is the motto of this blog? (Hint it is Richard Feynman's statement: "It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn't matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment, it's wrong.") The staff at Forbes bought all the claptrap from Chipotle because the company's bottom line was good and its restaurants were the In place to be. It's not the liberalism of the press that hurts society, but rather the herd mentality.

Steve Forbes should go back and read some of the dumb crap his publication printed about Chipotle and make sure this does not happen again.

And give Henry I. Miller a bonus. He has something rare in journalism today. Skepticism.

Yeah, right.


  1. Good eye, Don. Especially about the herd.

  2. Good thing there are none near me to set foot in.

  3. Well, Forbes does have a point. As of today, CMG is up roughly 1200% since Jan 2006 vs GOOGL which has a 250% gain. Even if we don't like the food, CMG has been an unequivocally successful enterprise.

  4. I'm not sure I can ever go back to any other place, after an experience like this. This place is appropriate in a space that lends so much gravitas to events. The design of Chicago event venues is sharp and environment is unbelievably good.