Et tu, Chipotle?
ignorance for fun and profit
But that’s only if we were talking about a few customers. Suppose enough customers demanded GMO-free items that I had to choose between staying in business and defending science. You can bet I’d offer GMO-free products** in my restaurant and settle for defending science in my spare time.
The above meme appears correct. While the likes of Subway and Kraft may have acted out of self-preservation, Chipotle is capitalizing on and promoting fear and ignorance. To wit, see the graphic below from the Chipotle website, to which I refuse to link.
Demand is a powerful market force, and the marketer who argues with customers rarely wins. Sole proprietors who defy demand risk losing sales and possibly going out of business. Leaders of publicly traded companies may face additional repercussions. You see, when they take a stand, they’re risking other people’s money, and those other people can sue them for it.
When I worked for an outdoor advertising company, I proposed a policy of not accepting advertisements for tobacco products. The board of directors lost no time in killing my proposal. If the company performed poorly, I learned, shareholders could sue the daylights of the CEO and the board for declining a known, huge purchaser of outdoor advertising.
That is why I do not fault the likes of Subway or Kraft for quietly capitulating by changing their ingredients instead of engaging what looks to be, for now, a no-win battle.
But I most certainly fault the likes of Whole Foods and, now, Chipotle. They’re not just giving in to demand. They’re promoting fear and capitalizing on ignorance.
Until a rational, scientifically literate market is not the exception but the rule, there are more than enough consumers to reward Whole Foods and Chipotle for their perfidy.
It is something of a vicious circle. When misinformed consumers demand and marketers respond, no matter whether it be quietly à la Subway or brazenly à la Chipotle, misinformed consumers feel validated and become more entrenched. Sadly, we can probably expect that more marketers will follow in the footsteps of the likes of Whole Foods and Chipotle, and that their markets will reward them for it.
* See the excellent post by Steven Novella, MD, “The GMO Controversy.”
** I would offer the products without making health claims, but I admit that’s a wimpy defense. I’d still be profiting from fear and misinformation.