Chipotle has long been known for providing the freshest and best-quality ingredients possible, and their marketing has always positioned it as the fast food restaurant with a socially conscious bent. That said, the jury is still out on how fresh their comedy chops are, having just launched an original comedy series “Farmed and Dangerous” on Hulu in February. The four-episode web series explores the world of industrial agriculture in America, while integrating Chipotle’s commitment to using high-quality ingredients without any explicit Chipotle branding.

Chipotle hopes to make the complex issues about food production more understandable, while sparking a curiosity within consumers to find out about where their food comes from and how it is prepared. This sort of branding is not wholly new territory for the company: in 2010 they launched a mobile app that hosts information on ingredient sourcing; used YouTube in 2011 and 2013 to release some incredibly popular animated shorts, and put out a mobile game in 2013 centered on the sustainability message.

Fast casual users are mindful of social responsibility but often are too busy to turn their beliefs into action. Thus, brands have stepped in to do this for them and are utilizing technology to get out the message. According to Mintel’s Fast Casual Restaurants – US 2013, 19% of respondents indicate that they want to visit fast casual restaurants that do good for the world, and 22% would like to visit restaurants that have similar values and ethics as themselves. Respondents find food safety (95%), fair treatment of animals (76%), and sourcing of ingredients (64%) important when considering which fast casual restaurant to visit.

What It Means

With consumers increasingly looking for both corporately responsible and better-for-you options, fast casuals must step up to the plate and deliver or be surpassed by competitors who will. The key is to not only follow through with best practices, but also make sure the message cuts through all of the advertising clutter. Being the first mover to use new technologies helps brands stand out and be heard. Of course, tasting delicious certainly helps too.

Bethany’s work as foodservice analyst is primarily focused on developing monthly foodservice-specific reports by utilizing custom consumer studies, market research, and menu information. Her most recent topics include Technology in Restaurants and LSR: Ethnic Concepts.

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