While Chipotle Mexican Grill has quickly become one of the fastest-growing fast-food chains in the United States — and in several other countries — not everyone is happy about it. Among the apparent enemies of Chipotle would seem to be rival food companies. An infamous lobbying and public relations firm that has done the dirty work for the fast-food industry in past cases unleashed an attack advertising campaign against the popular burrito joint Thursday.
With the theme "Chubby Chipotle," the campaign sponsored by a shadowy group calling itself the Center For Consumer Freedom, the ad, which first appeared in the New York Post newspaper on September 3, claims that consuming just two Chipotle burritos per week will lead to a weight gain of 40 pounds over a year.
A large part of Chipotle's wide appeal — the company brought in $3.2 billion in revenue in 2013, according to its own investor information — has been the chain's promotion of a "healthy eating" image. But the ads lambaste the company's executives as "fast food hypocrites."
A Chipotle spokesperson told the New York Times that the ads represented "a deliberate attempt to smear us."
"These are agenda-driven people who are being backed by unknown parties," said Chipotle's Chris Arnold. "It doesn't matter who they are as long as they pay."
The group is headed by controversial 73-year-old lobbyist and lawyer Richard "Rick" Berman, whose outfit has created numerous advocacy groups which, though Berman will not reveal his clients or financial backers, act on behalf of big business interests and against activist groups.
Berman has lobbied on behalf of the fast-food industry, as well as the tobacco and alcohol industries, using seven nonprofit groups and about 40 "front" organizations to get his messages to the public, leading campaigns against restaurant smoking bans, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and even the Humane Society.
"His industry donors — including restaurant chains whose costs could rise if living conditions for animals have to be improved, and wine and spirits companies that might sell less liquor if MADD has its way — can claim a deduction for charitable donations or business expenses," the New York Times reported in 2010.
But Berman's latest target is not a consumer advocacy group, but one of the most successful members of the fast-food industry, an industry whose interests Berman represents — and an industry that would now appear to want Chipotle out.
[Image: Wikimedia Commons]