Transparency Trailblazer of the Week: Chipotle

Transparent practices are everything to PCR. Our client relationships, work environment, and overall model of business is based upon honesty and integrity. As marketing continues to progress toward user experience design and analysis, we believe it is vital to fuel the discussion on transparency and help organizations realize the importance of openness with their customers, employees, and strategies. This featured series highlights the organizations that are getting it right and setting themselves apart as upstanding examples of responsiveness and honesty.


People love Chipotle. It might be the most obvious sentence ever typed, but its true. They love the witty, burrito-worshiping stories that encompass their soda cups and the corresponding doodles that personify the chain’s endearing appeal. They love having a surplus of options to fill their tortillas and uncovering their personal formulas to taste bud euphoria. And they absolutely love ordering, paying, and eating their eight dollars worth of beans and guacamole all within a five minute time frame.

But people also love Chipotle on a level that transcends quirky labeling, mouthwatering flavor, and rapid-fire service. They love Chipotle because Chipotle loves integrity. Since its humble origins in the early 1990s, Founder and Co-CEO Steve Ells has maintained a vision that focuses on on consideration toward sustainable agriculture, mindfulness toward company culture, and honesty toward consumers. Here are the ways they’re perpetuating transparent purpose.


Concern for the sources

Chipotle is upfront about where their ingredients come from and are constantly working to improve them. Known for serving more responsibly-raised meat than any other restaurant conglomerate, Chipotle is truly innovative in the realm of agricultural cultivation. The quick-mex chain hasn’t just sold themselves as having “Food With Integrity”, but has taken the time and effort to provide open, detailed information in regards to how and why they strive to implement sustainable practices. Rather than distribute conveyor-belt produce and confinement-operation meat sources, Chipotle works with small-scale farmers who grow organic, family-farmed, and locally-sourced food. While it would undoubtedly be more cost effective to obtain ingredients from large agricultural manufacturers, the company acknowledges and applies their mission statement over condoning careless production processes.

Ells and the company’s C-Suite have also shown their support toward the small farming community through the development of The Chipotle Cultivate Foundation. The nonprofit, created in 2011, aims to raise proceeds to help maintain family farms, support animal and environmental welfare, and voice awareness on the importance of health education in America. By establishing and growing the foundation, the company has confirmed their long-term mission to evolve and purvey agricultural responsibility.

Concern for the company

Historically, Chipotle has dismissed franchising opportunities in order to keep immediate control over production processes and employment ethics. Instead of franchising, Ells was able to finance the company through personal connections and investments from McDonalds until it went public in 2007. Why resist? Simply, because they sought and continue to seek the autonomy to do things their way. Being completely company owned has allowed Chipotle to build employee culture on its own terms, allowing everything from wages to the hiring process to be cultivated as responsibly as its food distribution. By franchising, Chipotle’s 1,700 stores could compete with the likes of McDonald’s 34,000 and gain global prominence as another super-chain eatery. Instead, they continue to scale small in favor of the independent decision-making that fuels their current brand success, which is largely derived from food virtue and high standards for employment operations.

Concern for the consumer

The open-kitchen restaurant model has delighted customers for decades. People love the literal transparency of being able to see what is going into their meal and who is making it. Chipotle took this design innovation one step further, not only by mass-producing, but by providing consumers with specific information about what they are eating. Each Chipotle menu includes a list of detailed nutrition facts, right down to the dietary fiber. An even more detailed nutrition calculator can be easily found online, along with descriptive ingredients statements, complete with detailed explanations of what somewhat ambiguous terms like “local” and “responsibly raised” mean in the eyes of the company.

Another commendable practice that Chipotle is widely recognized for is open disclosure of their shortcomings. Their website includes publically available sections that discuss how the company is striving to eliminate GMOs and preservatives from their menu. They admit that, while it is a constant priority to become 100% locally-sourced and organic, they still have improvements to make. Chipotle focuses on building trust between company and customer, and building it overtime in order to establish long-lasting loyalty. This is a practice that marketers can learn and grow from in terms of the user experience.


Modern marketing depends upon the ability of companies to set goals and standards into action and offer open communication practices between business and buyer. Too often, marketing teams aim to elevate brand image past the point of reality and end up tip-toeing around their flaws. Chipotle’s innovation comes in the form of its awareness. They are in-tune with their goal of implementing responsible practices, yet are also open about the fact that current strategies must be reevaluated and additional steps must be taken. They pride themselves on integrity, but also make note of imperfections, humanizing the brand and ultimately, demonstrating their unwillingness to settle for mediocre.


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