Starting this Monday, Chipotle began serving non-GMO food across their entire menu, becoming the first major US restaurant chain to do so. Chipotle’s founder, Steve Ells, stated: “This is another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food. Just because food is served fast doesn’t mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors”, according to The New York Times.
This decisive action comes in the midst of debate and mixed opinions surrounding genetically modified foods and their safety. Even though, according to the FDA, genetically modified foods are safe and do not harm humans, there is still a lot of controversy and skepticism around their use and consumption. Many countries have restricted or banned their use, and in recent years activists have been asking for regulations that require labeling for foods that contain genetically modified ingredients.
In recent years, Chipotle has had stronger financial performance than other more traditional fast food chains by positioning itself as a healthier and more wholesome alternative. Chipotle’s strategy to focus on better quality ingredients has resulted in strong sales and traffic at its restaurants. Since Chipotle’s announcement is a revolutionary one within the fast food industry, here at Crimson, we wondered: who is talking about Chipotle’s new policy and what has been their response so far?
We turned to social media to answer our questions:
Since Monday April 27th, there have been more than 26,000 tweets related to Chipotle’s declaration. Major newspapers and publishers like The New York Times, ABC News, CNN, Huffington Post, and The Wall Street Journal have helped spread the buzz by sharing the news with their followers on Twitter. Chipotle’s Twitter handle @chipotletweets has been mentioned in more than 2,800 posts since Monday and one of Chipotle’s tweets has been favorited by more than 2,000 users and retweeted more than 1,000 times so far.
Diving into demographic data, we found that users talking about Chipotle’s non-GMO announcement on social media are 56% male and 44% female. We also see that most posts are coming from users who are 35 years old or above (49%), followed by users who are between 18 and 24 years old (29%). This demonstrates that even though the younger generation is more likely to be health conscious, older generations are also vocal about topics of this nature. Interestingly, more than a third of the conversation originated within the United States is coming from three states: California (18.22%), New York (10.95%), and Texas (6.86%). How do consumers feel about this change?
A detailed analysis on consumer sentiment around Chipotle’s announcement revealed that the conversation is mostly positive, at 42%. Neutral posts or news-sharing account for 27% of the total conversation and negative sentiment for 31%. The positive conversation is driven by Chipotle’s fans who are excited about the news and see this as a positive change, while the negative sentiment is driven by general disagreement toward the new policy and by consumers who believe that opposing GMOs is a version of anti-science and fear-mongering.
As part of our analysis, we also looked at the interests of the users engaging with this topic on social media. Our Affinities™ analysis tells us that these consumers are 48 times more interested in Food Network than the larger Twitter population. They are also 41 times more interested in Monsanto, 34 times more interested in organic food, 29 times more interested in agriculture, 14 times more interested in climate change, 6 times more interested in nutrition, and 3 times more interested in energy than the larger Twitter population. Our findings suggest that Chipotle’s campaign is resonating with the right audience.
Chipotle’s positioning strategy and its reputation for food quality have been very successful in the past and its new non-GMO policy is gathering a mostly positive response from the public, which can put Chipotle even farther ahead than the competition. There is no way for restaurants to satisfy both pro-GMO and anti-GMO consumers at the same time, but as health concerns regarding food continue to increase within consumers, we expect more companies to take action (see: Pepsi’s announcement to ditch Aspartame from diet sodas, McDonald’s promise to start using chicken raised without antibiotics, and Whole Foods’ announcement that by 2018 all products containing GMOs will be accordingly labeled). Throughout transitional times for brands like Chipotle, social media listening continues to be the best tool to obtain unsolicited consumer opinion and uncover the net impact that these efforts have on brand perception.
For more information about dietary discussions over social media, check out our unbranded conversation on Organic Foods.