Chipotle — Healthy food and “Better Burger” (TM)

After reading “global restaurant consultant” Aaron D. Allen’s reaction to the recent trademarking of the “Better Burger” by Chipotle, in his article “Chipotle’s Better Burger in Bad Taste”, I am wondering what is up with him, not Chipotle.

He calls this branding move a “scarecrow”. The author has seen too many political debates and adlib debates by political hacks. “Scarecrow”? I think it’s more like a “honeypot”. Time will tell.

But I had a couple of things to say. This guy focuses on how much the company lost. It’s not clear from his writing, not explicit, but it looks like he’s referring to the stock market price, not to their sales. They both went down, but it helps to know where the numbers come from that you’re using.

Chipotle built a brand based on healthy and nutritious food, and they had great growth from that. That business model has not gone away. If they can come through unscathed. Mr. Allen compares the loss in one day that is “he equivalent of 10-times the total market capitalization of Shake Shack in only five months”. You might think he’s going to say next that he’s suprised the company didn’t declare bankruptcy.

I declare baloney.

So what if there are a zillion burger chains out there? Chipotle itself is not going away. What does he think? They’re going to do a “Better Burger” chain? I think not, but even if he do, it depends. Upstarts in supplier-crowded markets have wowed people before. Think Huizenga’s garbage hauling company in New York.

Wendy’s has a loyal customer following, for example, precisely because they advertise their meat is fresh, never frozen, and it isn’t loaded down with fillers. Hooray. People buy on emotion and habit, true fact that marketers know, but then nutrition is getting increasing emotional market space these days.

And they’re being “rude” about claiming the name for an entire foodservice category”? Really? Rude? When did “polite” become an operative term for competitors? Maybe in Canada, and probably in the States in times past, but lately?

So what’s that say about “Best Buy”? How about “Real Water”? Yes, that’s a trademark. How about “Windows” for the generic term in Graphic User Interfaces” for the panels where things happen? Of course who expected Bill Gates to be polite, after stealing away with OS/2 as soon as the contract allowed and changing all the references to OS/2 to the Windows brand?

Of course the States and international trademarking regimes are arbitrary at that. Even after the above trademarks were granted, they said no to “Let’s Roll”. I guess common words with a history of use in ads (“best buy”) are okay, but not common phrases.

So sure. With these recent scares, Mr. Allen then points out that McDonald’s sales have gone up and their increase “correlates very closely to the timing of Chipotle’s crisis”.

Follow the money, maybe? Who benefits? It reminds me of the time that one meat supplier for McDonald’s was hit with fines that busted the company to nothing. The “accidental” beneficiary of that move was the company named for the owner, Tyson Foods, based in Arkansas. The owner was a friend Bill Clinton.

I’m not “saying” anything by that. But anyone following this story that both the company and the government authorities investigated these incidents exhaustively, including the supply chains and the source facilities, and concluded with a big question mark. All they could say was that apparently something happened between the source installations and the stores. What does Mr. Allen think happened?

There is nothing more that Chipotle could do to even follow Mr. Allen’s advice. They closed the suspect stores and scoured them clean, got inspectors back in the stores, apologized to the public, did as much as they could of what they promised the public, and even closed all their stores –ALL their stores– to do a thorough sanitation training for their employees.

We’ll see what happens. This is apparently Mr. Allen’s profession, but with amateurs often showing up professionals in matters, a phenomenon much more visible now with the Internet, again, we shall see.

Meantime, this scandal broke around the first time I’d heard about this store. I’m looking forward to my first Chipotle meal.


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