Friday, October 21, 2011

Forget Twitter. Chipotle scores big with foil.

Social media may be the new frontier in restaurant marketing, but Chipotle Mexican Grill said it did just fine this summer with nothing more than some gold foil.

The industry’s non-conformist chain decided to call attention to its push for better ingredients by wrapping the concept’s torpedo-sized burritos in gold instead of the usual silver foil, which has figured into billboard campaigns in the past. The notion was subtle, to say the least. The gold standard—get it?

Well, people did. Executives revealed to investors yesterday that 94 percent of customers who saw the gold foil understood the implication that Chipotle uses better ingredients, strongly reinforcing the chain’s Food with Integrity pledge. Research also indicates that the campaign boosted awareness of Chipotle by 19 percent, said Steve Ells.

Unconventional marketing is being used more frequently by the burrito maker. Ells noted that an animated short movie illustrating the comeback of small-scale farming is currently being shown in 10,000 theaters, where some 20 million people will view it. It was funded by Chipotle as a way of calling attention to better agricultural methods.

It’s already been viewed more than 1.7 million times on YouTube, Ells said.

He noted that a message about sustainable farming was delivered about 32 million times through coverage of Cultivate Chicago, a recent food and music festival sponsored by Chipotle in the Windy City. The event drew some 16,000, who came to sample the specialties of big name chefs, hear some big-name bands, and maybe learn about sustainable farming in the process.

“We've always believed that if people discover where their food comes from, the more they'll appreciate what we do at Chipotle,” Ells told investors during a conference call.

Ells said that a second Cultivate festival will be held next year, most likely in the chain’s headquarters city of Denver.
Not on the schedule, he noted, is the development of a second ShopHouse Southeast Asian Grill. The company plans to focus on fine-tuning the prototype, which opened a few weeks ago in Washington, D.C.

Ells disclosed that patrons of the first ShopHouse have complained about the spiciness of the food. Those were the same sort of comments that he heard when the first Chipotle opened, Ells said.

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